Before the age of social media, it was fairly easy to block out the crazies during election season. As long as you screened for robo-calls, stopped watching cable news, and politely refused any flyers that were handed to you on the sidewalk, you could make it through November without any noticeable spikes in blood pressure.
But on Facebook and Twitter, every last one of your friends is a potential pamphleteer or spin doctor. That’s why Jarrell Waggoner, a PhD student in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, created nonpartisan.me, a free internet browser extension that uses a keyword filter to scrub your social news feeds clean of political posturing. Currently, the extension is only available for Google’s Chrome browser, although a Firefox version is in the works.
“The basic idea went back to seeing Chick-fil-A in the news all the time,” Waggoner says, referring to this summer’s raging kerfuffle over the fast food chain’s donations. “Regardless of where you stand on that, just seeing all this free advertising for Chick-fil-A was kind of angering.”
Waggoner, who works as a research assistant at USC’s Columbia campus and specializes in artificial intelligence and computer vision, started building the browser extension last week after being barraged with news and views from the Republican National Convention. Once installed, the program blocks all tweets, Facebook posts, and comments containing certain keywords. Users can use any of the three built-in keyword filters: Conservative, Liberal, and General Politics. The Conservative filter blocks all posts containing words like Romney, pro-life, and Ron Paul, while the Liberal filter looks for keywords like Obama, health care, and pro-choice.
Users who either find the built-in filters too aggressive or have certain pet topics they don’t want to hear about can also choose custom keywords to block out. A few suggestions for this campaign season: Obamacare, socialism, Eastwood, Bain, Atlas Shrugged, and “You didn’t build that.”
True, nonpartisan.me does give users the opportunity to disengage almost completely from a forum of political discourse. But Waggoner says that in his personal experience, he hasn’t found that forum to be an effective one.
“I guess my feeling was, because I have such a heterogeneous pool of people on Facebook, and because some of them were just kind of sniping back and forth amongst each other, it seemed like there was not a lot of productive conversation,” Waggoner says. “There’s a time and a place for this, but the way conversations tend to devolve on Facebook, in the end, I decided this wasn’t the place for it on my personal page. And I kind of figured, well, maybe some other people are in that same situation.”
To learn more and to download the extension, visit nonpartisan.me.