On Wednesday, Facebook announced it would begin testing a new feature called ‘Keyword Snooze,’ which will allow users to “temporarily hide posts by keywords” for 30 days. The feature will apparently be added to the menu that appears when you hit the three little dots on the right-hand corner of News Feed posts.
Facebook’s Echo Chamber
The tool will undoubtedly add to Facebook’s echo chamber effect. Through Facebook’s algorithm and the use of tools like Snooze Keyword, Facebook users only end up seeing things that align with their own viewpoint.
Researcher Lucía Schmidt, lead author of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences quantifying the echo chamber effect, told me in a 2017 interview that the effect becomes worse over time.
“The longer you’re on the platform, the more you like and comment, and the fewer sources you read from. The more you’re active the less variety you experience because basically you discover what you like and you just consume that,” Schmidt told me on a Skype call.
Schmidt thinks that Facebook caters to our natural proclivities with its tools and algorithms, saying “it’s human nature to search whatever we agree with and ignore everything else. But Facebook, with its algorithm, becomes tailored to your beliefs.”
Facebook’s new feature is bound to make the echo chamber effect worse. Pew reports that 83% of social media users simply ignore political content they disagree with, and 39% of users have blocked others or adjusted their settings based on negative reactions to other people’s’ political posts.
Why It’s A Problem
In the internet age, echo chambers can exacerbate other contemporary challenges.
A Pew study shows that the partisan divide in America has been growing steadily for the last 25 years. By facilitating the blocking out of other viewpoints, Facebook stands to only exacerbate that problem, making political discourse even harder.
Another problem that’s potentially stoked by echo chambers is fake news. By shutting out critical viewpoints the world’s fake news problem will only get worse, as fake news is politically weaponized and goes unquestioned simply because it fits with the narrative that’s popular in an echo chamber.
Shutting Your Friends Up Better Than Ever
Facebook has steadily been introducing features that have allowed users to fine tune the News Feed algorithms to their specific political disposition. Aside from tracking every post you like, click, or share, Facebook now allows users to hide posts they don’t like, unfollow certain individuals (that annoying uncle), or snooze certain people.
With Snooze Keywords, you can get your friend’s posts, just filtered to avoid those awkward points of political disagreement.