If you want to stay on top of the news – especially if you want to get your news from a wide cross-section of sources – then Twitter is an indispensable tool. Sure, Facebook has a larger user base and the news feed is filled with links to articles, but it’s designed to limit your exposure to other viewpoints. Twitter is not, and Twitter also makes it very easy to organize your feed by topic and by trusted sources.
Facebook, while very popular, presents a serious problem for democracies when it comes to curating the news. Democracies, as Cass Sunstein explained in Republic.com, depend on exposing citizens to viewpoints other than their own. This “marketplace of ideas” has its roots in John Milton, John Locke, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Jefferson. While coming at the concept from a variety of angles, they all felt strongly that rational, free discourse would ultimately produce the truth (and, therefore, good public policy). That makes Facebook’s news feed algorithm – which filters what you see based on your own viewpoints – very bad for finding truth and formulating good public policy, and the tendency for people to both be friends with others and Like pages that agree with their own perspectives makes Facebook doubly bad for keeping the electorate well-informed, and therefore doubly bad for democracy.
Twitter, by contrast, doesn’t limit what you see based on an algorithm that taps into your past engagement behavior – it feeds you everything from everyone you follow. And while there may still be bias in your timeline based on who you follow, Twitter offers a few very powerful tools to help you break out of your “filter bubble.”
Twitter Tools for Bursting Your Filter Bubble
Twitter Lists are incredibly useful for monitoring groups of experts, journalists, policymakers, news curators and activists.
Whether you create your own lists or monitor lists created by other Twitter users you trust, you can use them to easily monitor what any group of people are recommending that you read.
If you want to follow the news media directly, try creating a Twitter list of your favorite (and not so favorite) media outlets. If you prefer to separate them based on whether you tend to agree with them, or not, that’s fine too – but be sure to create both lists to ensure exposure to the news from all perspectives. Similarly, you can create Twitter lists of the best reporters on any particular beat or from any set of media outlets.
One of the easiest ways to find reporters on Twitter is to look at the staff lists maintained by most media outlets on their main Twitter account – you can find the lists they maintain on their profile pages or by simply using this link convention: “www.twitter.com/[MediaOutletTwittername]/lists”.
If you want to create a list of reporters from multiple outlets who all cover the same issues, you can scroll through the lists from many media outlets and find reporters who list your issue in their bios (for example, Think Progress, Washington Post, New York Times, Fox News, and Bloomberg). Or you could just use one of the many reporter lists maintained by PR firms and professionals – for example, here’s a list I built of healthcare reporters.
If you want to build a list of policy experts, check out the Twitter accounts of think tanks like the Center for American Progress, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Economic Policy Institute, Peterson Institute, and the Institute for Policy Studies. Unfortunately, not all think tanks and universities provide such lists – if you find one that doesn’t, Tweet at them and suggest they set one up.
If you want to follow what Members of Congress are sharing, the House and Senate caucuses each maintain a Twitter list of its members: House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans. Monitoring these lists makes it very easy to see much of what is coming out of Congress in real-time; what Members are thinking, what they’re reading and what they’re doing.
And many advocacy organizations maintain lists of their top activists for you to follow.
Whether you bookmark any of these existing lists from a trusted source and let them keep it up to date, or build your own lists, you can easily keep on top of what people you trust (or disagree with) are reading and recommending that you read.
Tweetdeck is the glue that turns all your Twitter lists and keyword/hashtag searches into a valuable, real-time asset that won’t suck up all your time.
Instead of bookmarking all of the lists and searches you’ve set up or identified to keep you well-informed, you can feed them all to columns on Tweetdeck.com, a free tool provided by Twitter. You can keep TweetDeck open off to the side of your monitor (or on a side monitor, if you have one) just like you keep your email inbox open. This way, you can glance at it throughout the day and quickly see what’s rolling across the screen. If you see something worth reading, read it. If it’s worth sharing, share it, then move on to your next task.
If you need to take a deep dive into the news – generally or on a specific topic – you can focus on TweetDeck for a while and see what’s happening in the news, and from different perspectives.
This is why when people ask me what newspapers and magazines I read, I tell them without hesitation, “None.” But I do read a lot of the news, I just don’t focus on any particular publication. I read Twitter, and not just my general Twitter timeline. I read Twitter via my columns on TweetDeck. That means I read news articles from dozens, even hundreds of sources (depending on the timeframe). I rely on the curation of friends, experts and trusted organizations.
And while I do read news I find on Facebook, that news isn’t curated with any rhyme or reason. Sure, I have a friend who’s always messaging me on Facebook with fascinating political news and analysis, but my news feed is just one monster collection of posts from the friends that Facebook thinks I like the best (and not always correctly, I might add).
The bottom line is that if I want to get a great cross-section of the news, I always look to Twitter, and will continue to do so until Facebook 1) lets me organize my news feed and 2) lets me turn off its algorithm.
Keyword searches on Twitter will net a large number of tweets from a wide range of people, and among them are sure to be great recommendations for articles to read. There’ll also be a lot of bad recommendations. Monitoring hashtags, which are keywords that have been turned into keyword/phrase search query links and often aggregate highly interested audiences into conversation communities, typically yield a more informed set of recommendations, though still of varying quality.
Nevertheless, monitoring keywords and hashtags on Twitter is a great way to cast a wider search net for things to read. It’s a great way to discover new experts, reporters, policymakers and activists that merit being added to one of your Twitter lists. And actively casting this ideologically wide net and moving more people into your lists will help make Twitter an ever-more valuable curation tool to keep you a well-informed citizen.