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This Chrome add-on lets you see Twitter through the eyes of other users

FlipFeed wants to burst your social media bubble.

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Social media can feel like a bubble: You only get the tweets, posts or opinions of people you choose to follow and likely already agree with.

What if you could see what the other side sees when they open their feed? What if you could view Twitter through the eyes of someone else?

That’s what FlipFeed, a Chrome extension created by folks at MIT, is trying to create. The feature lets users “flip” over to another random user’s feed to see what that user sees when he or she opens Twitter.

The idea, according to the website for the project, is to get people outside their social media echo chambers and expose them to users with differing political views. Social media has gained a reputation for locking people into these filter bubbles rather than helping them understand the perspectives of others on the outside.

“Powered by deep learning and social network analysis, feeds are selected based on inferred political ideology (‘left’ or ‘right’) and served to users of the extension,” the About page reads. The extension was created by the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab.

The aim of the project is “to explore how social media platforms can be used to mitigate, rather than exacerbate, ideological polarization by helping people explore and empathize with different perspectives.”

In the eyes of some, this filter bubble issue is a serious problem. On sites like Facebook and Twitter, where you choose whom to follow and can hide posts you don’t care for, it’s easy to create a feed full of content that aligns with your own ideologies.

It’s an unintended feature that has troubled Facebook in particular.

In the wake of last fall’s U.S. presidential election, some believe Facebook’s filter bubble and the proliferation of fake news on the social network led to misinformed voters.

Facebook’s head of artificial intelligence, Yann LeCun, says the company could even create software algorithms to help fix the issue, but is wrestling with the ethical dilemmas that come alongside choosing what people do and do not see (even though its algorithm already does this).

FlipFeed, though, thinks it’s found a solution by showing people content from a new vantage point.

It’s not entirely clear which Twitter APIs the group from MIT is using, and a Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

But Twitter also invested $10 million into this same MIT lab, which uses social media and digital media data to study social patterns. As part of the investment, Twitter granted MIT “full access to its real-time, public stream of tweets,” so it’s possible the lab is taking advantage of that relationship for the FlipFeed project.

This isn’t the first widget to let users explore the social media feeds of other users. A similar app once existed for Instagram, allowing users to see the feeds of any public profile on the app, including celebrities like Taylor Swift.

Even though the app relied on publicly available information and Instagram’s own APIs, Instagram cut off the app’s access to its API shortly after it launched.

It’s also not the first time such a peek has been possible with Twitter. Twitter used to have a feature similar to FlipFeed that let you see other users’ timelines.

“Even though all the info is public (who you follow / what they tweet), it is so powerful to others it felt like a privacy violation,” Greylock Partner and former Twitter employee Josh Elman tweeted about the feature. Rolled out in 2011, the option is no longer available.

Recode reached out to FlipFeed, but a representative said the creators of the Chrome extension are not doing interviews until after they wrap up some changes they are working on.

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