This year's election and its aftermath made one thing clear: There are multiple Americas and we're not listening to each other.

It's not necessarily our fault either. Search engines and social media platforms like Google and Facebook have been accused of creating "filter bubbles" for users, using algorithms to determine what we see based on what they think we want to see, often excluding information that might challenge our pre-existing beliefs or make us feel uncomfortable.

Since the presidential campaign kicked off last year, the filter bubble has been the subject of fierce discussion, credited with (or blamed for) everything from the surprise of Donald Trump's victory to the proliferation of fake news to the eroding of democracy.


Here at Upworthy, the "filter bubble" has long been kind of a big deal. Our co-founder and CEO Eli Pariser coined the term in his book "The Filter Bubble" way back in 2011, before anyone could imagine the events of 2016.

Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

I sat down with Pariser (full disclosure: my boss' boss) to ask him how our online filters shape our lives and ideas — and how we as individuals can break through and reach out to the other side.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: What is the filter bubble?

Pariser: The filter bubble is the personalized universe of information that we increasingly live in online. Websites know who we are, and they tailor their content to what they think we want to see. And when you add all of that up, you get your own personal filter bubble.

We don’t always know or see that this filtering is being done for us, and we don’t see what’s being filtered out. And so, without knowing it, we can see a view of the world that we think is representative, but is actually just showing us what these websites think we want to see.

How do sites like Facebook and Google build these bubbles?

By algorithms that are collecting personal data about you, making some guesses about what you might be interested in, and showing you some stories and not others. And in some cases, sharing that information with other websites across the web.

"It’s always tempting to just write off people who disagree with you. I think it’s really important to at least understand how they could come to believe what they believe." — Eli Pariser

Some of it's very crude: I’m a man, not a woman. I’m white, I’m not Latino or black. So some of it is very basic demographic level. Some of it is much more sophisticated. It’s looking at the whole history of what I’ve clicked on over the course of my time online and trying to make some assumptions about what it means I will click on going forward.

Give me an example of how this works.

One of the craziest filter bubble experiences I’ve ever had was on a radio show, where the host was asking people to google "Barack Obama" and call in and tell him what they saw. And the first three people who called in all saw the exact same thing, which was the Wikipedia entry on Barack Obama and the White House. And I was thinking, "This is the worst radio interview ever because everyone’s seeing the same thing."

And then a guy called in and said, "My first result is about how Obama’s birth certificate is fake." And that’s the kind of thing that’s really unnerving because he didn’t know that his results were different from everyone else’s until he heard what their results were, and in fact, for some reason, Google thought he would be interested in this totally untrue story about Obama.

But why should I want to be bombarded with viewpoints I disagree with in my social media feed? I'd rather not deal with those people, to be honest.

It’s always tempting to just write off people who disagree with you. I think it’s really important to at least understand how they could come to believe what they believe. Because even if you don’t agree, understanding the framework in which they’re operating opens up the door to persuasion and to an actual conversation.

What can I do if I want to get outside my filter bubble?

I’d say there’s a few things you can do. The first is to seek out what Ethan Zuckerman calls “bridge figures,” people who kind of have a foot in several different communities. And they can act as a kind of interpreter and help people. It’s hard to plunge right into a group of people who you deeply disagree with, so finding the bridge people who can interpret and explain how that group of people is seeing the world is often really important.

The second piece is just seeking out more diverse sources of information, and actually, if it’s on Twitter or on Facebook, finding some people who you really disagree with to add to your feed and follow and engage with is a great way to get outside of your bubble.

"You can stay inside your bubble but that's your choice. But the thing is, just because you choose to believe certain things are true doesn’t mean that’s actually what’s true." — Eli Pariser

And then I think the third piece is to really understand which mediums are good for which things because Facebook is going to organize information in one way, and Twitter is going to organize information in another way, and we shouldn’t assume that all of them are great for the same kind of purposes. Twitter, generally, makes it easier to view content from people you might deeply disagree with than Facebook does. You can decide to spend more of your time on a platform like that.

We just had a really tense, brutal election. It seems like a lot of people are finding it hard to talk to the other side right now. What advice do you have for them?

The thing that Clinton and Trump supporters can do that’s actually important is engage in places where there are other identities that are the most important. So, sports, for example, is a place where people are willing to put aside their partisan identities because we’re all fans of this one team. And actually, what researchers have said is that those sports forums are some of the places where the best cross-partisan dialogue is actually happening because it’s all cool. Because we all love the Patriots best, and so we can argue about race, and we can argue about these other things, and it’s OK. And I think finding those spaces where there’s an identity that supersedes our partisan identity is one of the best ways to engage with people very unlike us.

What advice do you have for people who would just rather stay inside their comfort zone than deal with all that?

You can stay inside your bubble, but that's your choice. But the thing is, just because you choose to believe certain things are true doesn’t mean that’s actually what’s true. And we can lose sight of the real problems and the real challenges in the world, but they don’t lose sight of us. I think, at some point, reality comes to bare, and that’s what we are seeing in this election.

There are things that are real in the world that no amount of telling yourself they’re not true helps solve. You have to grapple with those actual issues.

How do you approach those difficult disagreements, either in real life or on social media?

I would say, have conversations in which you affirm the other person. Because research shows that when you can remind people what’s good about themselves, they’re much more open and they’re much more open to consider other ideas.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Metallica live in London in 2017 and Sheriff Drumman.

Anthony Eugene Sheriff, known to people across the Los Angeles area as Sheriff Drumman, had his life turned upside down last December when his truck and drum set were stolen at 4:30 a.m. outside his apartment in Hawthorne, California.

“When I got outside, I had a total panic attack,” Sheriff, 34, told the Los Angeles Times. “I fainted in front of my neighbors. I started screaming, I was calling for help like someone had shot me. It felt like the devastating news of a loved one being murdered.

“It means the world to me,” he said about his music. “Without drums, my life would have went a completely different way. There’s no other way to say it. It’s my therapy, it’s my fun, it’s my life.”

After his truck was stolen, Sheriff immediately took to social media to tell his followers to be on the lookout.

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Emily Vondy's mom fail.

Sometimes, we have to just laugh at our failures.

“Here’s a little story to allow all the moms of littles out there to maybe feel a little better about yourself,” Emily Vondy told her 1.3 million TikTok followers.

In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
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