BuzzFeed Tries to Break Readers Out of Their Social-Media Bubblesby
Publisher will expose audience to opinions from across the web
News outlets seek out other viewpoints after surprise election
BuzzFeed News, attempting to address a problem media companies have grappled with since the presidential election, introduced a feature to help readers see what people outside their social-media networks are saying about the news.
The idea is an attempt to get readers to understand -- or even acknowledge the existence of -- the viewpoints of people who don’t think like them. BuzzFeed’s “Outside Your Bubble” feature will appear at the bottom of its widely-shared articles. A BuzzFeed staffer will curate different opinions from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, blogs and elsewhere with help from data tools, Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said in an interview.
“We’re all living in filter bubbles, on social media in particular,” Smith said. “Anybody who works in news has spent the last year watching how social media affects people’s views of the world and can close you off to dissenting views.”
BuzzFeed Inc., a closely held digital media company whose investors include Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, is one of several outlets trying to expose readers to other points of view at a time when the country seems more polarized than ever. More than 40 percent of American adults get news on Facebook, according to a report last year from Pew Research Center. Facebook’s algorithm elevates articles that get shared and commented on most, which can reinforce people only seeing articles from like-minded friends.
In a lengthy manifesto published Thursday, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said his company will take responsibility for helping people understand one another. “Over time, our community will identify which sources provide a complete range of perspectives so that content will naturally surface more,” Zuckerberg wrote.
New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told his newspaper after the November election that Times journalists have “to do a much better job of being on the road, out in the country, talking to different kinds of people than the people we talk to.”
CNN has several correspondents assigned to report on the views of Trump supporters, according to Jeff Zucker, the network’s president. Asked whether CNN should do more to inform viewers who believe in fake news like “Pizzagate” or the “Bowling Green massacre,” Zucker said that “our only responsibility is to tell the truth and put the facts out there.”
“We can’t make people believe something if they’re inclined not to,” Zucker said at a luncheon with media reporters on Thursday.
Adding to the confusion, President Donald Trump has dismissed news coverage that reflects negatively on his administration as “fake news,” even when the facts are verifiable reports from established news outlets.
One report that drew the president’s ire was from BuzzFeed, which published an unverified dossier last month describing alleged connections between Trump and the Russian government. A Russian technology executive named in the dossier has filed a defamation suit against BuzzFeed, and Trump has repeatedly denied any connection to Russia. Smith defended the decision in a recent opinion column in the New York Times.
Smith said BuzzFeed not only wants to report the facts but “also offer the audience an opportunity to see how people are engaging with it.” Since readers often don’t seek out a different perspective on articles they read, BuzzFeed is bringing it to them.
“We’re trying to provide some context,” Smith said.