The Filter Bubble
“The algorithms that orchestrate our ads are starting to orchestrate our lives.”
-Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble
When it comes to social and political issues, it’s easy to create a filter bubble on social media.
What is a filter bubble? It’s a personal online zone of customized news, entertainment, and social media posts. It can also impact your google search results and targeted ads. This bubble can be so limited and specific that it places the recipient at a risk of developing a distorted worldview on one or many issues. The removal of opposing viewpoints, contrary arguments, as well as random and novel ideas, can limit a person’s ability to accept new ideas on the whole.
As social media, ad content, and search result algorithms become more sophisticated, the filter bubble problem becomes worse. It’s our responsibility as citizens and consumers of information to combat the filter bubble. It’s not that curating your social media experience is necessarily bad – your social media should be a reflection of your values and of the things you care about. But we need to continue to be aware that online information comes to us under the influence of some else’s bias or agenda.
Scholars that study social media and the use of algorithms believe that filter bubbles (and its cousin fake news) are serious challenges and raise an important question: is social media a threat to social unity and democracy? An argument can be made that Facebook’s algorithms are creating even deeper echo chambers, leaving us more divided than ever, in an era when connection is easier than ever.
Filter bubbles are only going to get worse as algorithms get more sophisticated, they are going to place us in ever-tightening, more confining bubbles. This will result in even more distance and less connection between friends on social media simply because we have different tastes in books or music or politics.
Filter bubbles are the result of algorithms that are created and maintained in a shroud of mystery. The typical internet user isn’t let in on the secrets of the ways social media companies group us together. We just know that our online experiences are automatically sorted, categorized, and customized by someone who doesn’t know us, but who has reduced us to the sum of our clicks.
Our filter bubbles make us feel good – our beliefs are regularly reinforced by like-minded friends, news that further support our “side”, disparaging memes and snarky cartoons about those who don’t think like us. This confirmation bias is relentless and extremely influential, and is often a mental process that people don’t realize is happening as its happening. It makes us believe that we are being honest and fair when interpreting the world around us, but in reality, we fail constantly.
To beat the bias of the filter bubble, we can employ a few different tactics. We can deny the instinct to duck and run from ideas and evidence that cause discomfort. We can expose ourselves to information not from our bubble by including publications that are not where we typically go for our news, or choose a tool like allsides.com, a media amalgamation website that will present headlines and stories from three different perspectives. Seek out the opposing viewpoints of as many issues as possible, and don’t allow all of your info to come from your social media feeds. If all of the information you consume is from people who think, believe, and look just like you, you have built a make-believe world that is inhibiting your brain’s ability for honest analysis and deep thinking.