The 2016 election has given way to some of the most epic Facebook fights the world has ever seen, and with virtually every news article ever written right at your fingertips, it can often seem easy to win a debate and prove you're right. So why isn't it? A new "Red Feed, Blue Feed" tool by The Wall Street Journal now shows us, in real time, how we're all just screaming into a vacuum of misinformation without getting any results.
According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news via social media, but we're not all seeing the same thing. Facebook's algorithms are designed to show users what they want to see, and of course, the majority of your Facebook friends probably align with your views already. If a distant cousin shares an article that skews far from your beliefs, it's likely you'll never even see it. To demonstrate how different Facebook can look for "blue" and "red" users, the Journal built two feeds, and readers can compare the side by side results to see how conflictingly they portray several topics, such as President Obama, President Trump, guns, or abortion. If you're wondering how the "other side" can possibly feel the way they do when the news is telling them differently, it's because they're seeing completely different news than you are.
As a liberal, I pulled up the site with all the confidence of a Michael-Jackson-eating-popcorn GIF, expecting to see the red feed chock-full of fake news and terrible sources, and I was right. Then I turned to the blue feed, fully expecting that every post would be from credible news sources like major TV networks and actual newspapers... And I was dead wrong. While I saw an MSNBC article here and there, the vast majority of the posts were sourced from sites with an extreme liberal bias, or no-name sites with fewer daily visits than the Space Jam website.
I've seen this in my own feed, too, albeit rarely. The trouble is that if you're posting deeply polarizing articles, the only people who will actually click on them are those who already agree with you. We know which sites are geared towards "us" and "them," and we instinctively avoid that which is aimed at "them." Just as I'm not about to read an article titled "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy," your conservative uncle probably won't be interested in reading a listicle of the top 10 dumbest lies Sean Spicer has ever told.
As for the sources themselves, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and a site called "Pissed Off Liberals" or "From My Cold Dead Hands" might occasionally post a 100 percent true, unbiased article. But I'm willing to bet that the name of at least one of those fictional sites just made you cringe a little bit, and you'd never even read a word from it, much less believe it. Sites with words like "liberal," "conservative," "left," "right," "red," "blue," "Democrat," or "Republican" right in the title should be avoided, as they're probably very biased.
And no matter where you originally hear a piece of news, you must vet it before sharing, and provide an unquestionably credible source to back it up. If your friend Sheila told you something she saw a senator say on TV, I'm not telling you not to believe her. But your cousin Mark doesn't know Sheila from a hole in the ground, so take a moment to Google it and find a trustworthy article that backs her up. If you come across a story that no other outlet has verified, accept that it might not be trustworthy. When in doubt about a source, check its Wikipedia page to see if it's legitimate.
It's best to get to know a few sources that you trust, in case you find yourself engaging with someone who questions your primary source. While The New York Times and CNN are considered pinnacles of journalism by most people (and rightly so), they've both recently been subjected to slander by a certain high-ranking official, and some people are apt to believe that they're "fake news" (again, they are not). If your debate partner doesn't trust them, don't bother trying to convince them otherwise, just steer them towards a similar story from NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, the BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian, or of course, The Wall Street Journal. And if they still don't believe you, accept that they will never compromise or have a real democratic debate, then go have a nice snack. You've earned it.