Wednesday, 24 May 2017 08:09

The filter bubble: When the Internet personalizes what you see, letting you believe you’re always right


Last month’s Brexit referendum taught me something about my social circle: I am Facebook friends with an astonishing number of experts in European politics and foreign economic policy. And here I thought they were mainly old classmates and colleagues. Among my social media circle, there seemed to be unanimous agreement on both the nature of the travesty and the measure of responsibility to be hung on its tinpot ringleaders.

This was the filter bubble: the place you end up when the reinforcing mechanics of web search and social media personalize what you see whether you like it or not.

When Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner wrote about social media’s impact on the news last week, the part that jumped out at me was her mention of a well-known Internet activist’s desperate search for online “Leave” celebrations after Brexit. Despite the fact that roughly 52 per cent of voters had chosen this option, no one seemed to be very happy about winning the referendum. The only evidence I saw of anyone actually voting to leave was the story that they were all frantically searching “What is the EU?” within a day of voting to abandon it – a story that turned out to be wildly overblown.

Fast-forward a month, and we’re in the midst of a bizarre GOP convention that itself caps off a circus of a primary campaign. The spectacle is at times so shocking that if you are keen to be outraged online, it’s all that you will see. A moderate on one side ends up looking at a moderate on the other side through the wrong end of a telescope, even if on many issues they are close enough to touch hands.


The filter bubble deceives us because it promises to give us only what we want while concealing what we don’t. But does it really make good on that promise? What you see is tailored for you by what you’ve seen before, just as your life at any moment is largely the result of your cumulative choices. But does that mean your life in every moment is exactly how you want it to be? Maybe in our browsing, too, we should step out and explore another neighbourhood once in a while.

It’s okay to think that you’re right. Most people do, just as most people think they are as better-than-average drivers, like I am. From time to time, though, it might be beneficial to consider that we’re not quite as right as our news feeds would have us believe.

Source: This article was published By Paul Taunton


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