The internet is facing a major issue. One that has a major impact on politics and belief systems in the United States, and has already divided our country politically. The issue is filter bubbles.
- What is a Filter Bubble?
- How Are Filter Bubbles Created?
- Why Are Filter Bubbles Bad?
- How to Avoid Filter Bubbles
- How Search Encrypt Avoids the Filter Bubble Effect
What is a Filter Bubble?
Filter bubbles refer to the state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches on search engines or social media sites. As a result, users become separated from most information that presents an opposing viewpoint. These bubbles are associated with search engines and social media websites.
How Are Filter Bubbles Created?
Algorithmic websites, like many search engines and social media sites, show users content based on their past behavior. Depending on what you’ve clicked on in the past, the website shows you what it thinks you are most likely to engage with.
Social Media companies, like Facebook, want you to keep using the product. So instead of being a feed of all the information, Facebook is selective with what it puts in your feed. People often assume that the information they see is unbiased, when it is actually skewed towards their beliefs.
Why are Filter Bubbles Bad?
After awhile of only seeing results they agree with, people begin to believe that they are more correct and then their views are strengthened and solidified. This means that when someone disagrees with them, both of their views are likely to be more polarized. As a result, these people are less likely to agree with each other, or even talk to each other.
Filter bubbles are a kind of “intellectual isolation”. This isolation creates ignorance to other perspectives and opinions. The internet was once a way of connecting with other people with different views. But with the introduction of algorithm-based feeds of information, we’ve broken the internet to isolate ourselves from views different from our own.
Eli Pariser, an internet advocate, said in a TED talk, “instead of a balanced information diet, we may end up with only information junk food.” So, the internet, which appears at first to be a window into the world’s information, may only be showing you half of the story. This is also bad for democracy, which requires political discourse and discussion of issues to reach a compromise. If everyone’s views are so polarized that this becomes impossible, we’re in trouble as a country.
Social Media is One Giant Filter Bubble
Wired reported that “according to Pew Research, 61 percent of millennials use Facebook as their primary source for news about politics and government.” And this just shows how big of an issue that these skewed sources of information really are. Over half of millennials let Facebook’s News Feed algorithm determine which news and information they see. Not only does this create a huge responsibility on Facebook’s part, but also it means that young people are growing more and more isolated in their views. People’s political views are constantly reinforced on social media to the point where any discourse with people with other leanings becomes impossible.
Facebook isn’t the only source of biased or skewed information on social media. People fall into the same traps with other social networking sites. Twitter, for example, has the same issues. Twitter users tend to only follow people and news sources that present perspectives they agree with. No matter which apps people choose, or what news sites they rely on it’s difficult to truly see the full range of information anywhere on the internet.
The Surveillance Economy Drives Filter Bubbles
Since filter bubbles are caused by algorithms, it’s actually the data collection that websites use that creates the “bubbles”. If internet organizations prioritized user privacy, rather than tailoring their services to each user, the isolation created by algorithms wouldn’t exist. This drive to collect and monetize user data is known as “surveillance capitalism“. The term was coined by Shoshana Zuboff in her most recent book. We all share some information when we go online, and it’s the websites that use this information the most that are contributing to the filter bubble problem.
How to Avoid Filter Bubbles
Farnam Street’s Recommendations for How To Avoid Filter Bubbles
- Use ad-blocking browser extensions
- Read news sites and blogs that provide a wide range of perspectives
- Switch our focus from entertainment to education
- Use Incognito browsing, delete search history and stay logged out if possible
- Delete or block browser cookies
How Search Encrypt Avoids the Filter Bubble Effect
Private search engines are a great way to avoid filter bubbles. SearchEncrypt.com doesn’t track search history in any user identifiable way. This means that results are based only on keywords. Search Encrypt’s search results aren’t influenced by your political views or past internet behavior.
Personalized Internet is not Better Internet
Another way to avoid filter bubbles is by limiting the “personalized” and “tailored” aspects of the web. While it may seem like a good thing to have a custom, optimized experience, websites tracking your information and using it to determine which information you see is the exact cause of filter bubbles.
If the information you are shown is incomplete, and ads can target you specifically, is your experience really any better?