On Sunday and into Monday morning, the two main partisan filter bubbles of the Internet agreed that it would be a good idea to talk about Starbucks. Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO, had said that he would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. The announcement was in response to President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning entry into the United States by refugees and by migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. But like pretty much any viral topic on the Internet in 2017, the story was almost unrecognizable, bubble to bubble.
Here is how ThinkProgress handled the announcement: with coffee wordplay and a headline containing the word “epic.”
In right-wing filters, however, there was a lot of fury at Starbucks. Specifically, the meme went, Starbucks should not be hiring refugees when Americans needed jobs, too.
On Sunday, The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported on the way conservative media discussed the president’s recent executive orders on refugees and immigration. As mainstream outlets reported on the confusion at airports across the world, and on the backlash online and at protests, Weigel wrote, conservative sites like Breitbart were supplying readers with reasons to doubt the sincerity of the backlash and to meet the orders with nothing but praise. “The weekend that unfolded across conservative media looked almost nothing like the one unfolding across newspaper front pages or most of cable news,” he wrote.
At this point, the phenomenon of the social media “filter bubble” has been thoroughly scoured for insight. It’s a persistent problem that contributes a great deal to the content you do and don’t see from the rest of the world online. Facebook is, slowly, trying to address its role in helping to create them — its latest attempt involves tweaks to its “trending” bar, including the removal of personalization. Facebook will no longer populate that bar with what it thinks you might want to see, in other words, and instead show the same thing for everybody in the U.S.
Facebook might be the most powerful platform for the “filter bubble,” and its existence there goes beyond its trending topics. Over the weekend, progressives may have seen a viral, live video from the Working Families Party, showing the protests at JFK Airport. At one point, more than 80,000 people were watching the stream; it currently has more than 200,000 shares and 15 million views. Meanwhile, in another bubble, a National Review article by David French that promised it would separate “fact from hysteria” was going viral. As of Monday, it had been shared 962,000 times on Facebook, according to the platform’s API. While the article was mildly critical of the executive order, it was shared as an ultimate defense of Trump’s intentions in issuing it, and as a stronger criticism of anyone who was protesting it. Like many political viral phenomena, these spread largely separate from each other.
The Wall Street Journal has a really excellent, ongoing project that tracks these two bubbles in real time: “blue feed, red feed.” It draws from several left and right-leaning Facebook pages to create two feeds, side-by-side, that show the very different conversations about the news you’ll see depending on who you follow — and the sources your like-minded friends might share.
Over the past few days, the “blue feed, red feed” project has documented a few interesting examples of contrasts.