‘Filter Bubbles’- A regression in the Information Age?


In our Digital Humanities class with Mike we were instructed to do collaborative writing on Google Docs. The topics were varied but our group decided to focus on the negative effects of Social Media. One of the points that came up from Rachael’s writing came from a Telegraph piece she had read entitled ‘Is the Digital Age Rewiring Us’. Paul Kendall made an interesting point as did Rachael; in that even though we are now more socially connected than ever the people and ideas we are exposed to are getting smaller. Kendall writes “We’ll become more tribal and less exposed to people with interests or beliefs different from our own.”

I had put the concept out of mind until stumbling across a Ted Talk by Eli Pariser. It is available to watch here. ‘Filter Bubbles’ is a term coined by Pariser in his book of the same name.  Eli describes the intellectual exile we are facing online as a result of the changing face of the Web. Facebook and Google (and news sites like Huffington Post, The Guardian etc.) both engage in personalisation of pages for the audience. Google tracks search history and then selects search results using an algorithm to try and determine what you would be most likely to click on. Though a seemingly innocent idea, this level of filtering could easily be taken to the level that it goes against the principles of open information. Should people really want Google to tell them what they should be reading , instead of deciding for ourselves? A quick click of the world icon next to the personal icon will show us what results have been omitted but the personal icon is set as standard and most people never change it.

It’s possible to get an unbiased Search result of course we could use Chromes Incognito or an engine such as DuckDuckGo , which promises to never store data about your searches. Google however is only one perpetrator in the rising trend of online businesses mixing and matching what they think we may want to see. As Pariser notes, what we want to see and what we should be seeing may be completely different. We are torn in a battle between our future selves and our current impulsive (childish) selves. We may Google search inane things like ‘micropigs‘ (you’re welcome) on a semi-regular basis, but that doesn’t mean we want that reflected when looking up information on the PIGS crisis.


Mark Zuckerberg makes a very interesting point with his above quote. I have no doubt that for the majority; living in our self made ecosystems of knowledge and familiarity is much more comforting than having to face difficult issues which may not directly affect us. It comes back to the earlier point of wrestling with our ‘child’ selves and the people we want to be, or think we should be. I think Facebook has made our points of interest too small. We aren’t exposed or being challenged by provoking material like we could be. It is a loop of information being consumed with Facebook regurgitating similar information to yesterday. This would not be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that 63% of Twitter and Facebook users readily go to them as sources of news. It calls into question the need for accountability on these sites.[1]

Integrity is a word not often mentioned when one brings up social media, but print media was defined by journalistic integrity. There are no such guidelines or rules defining the internet, and this is a fact that we need to be constantly aware of. Forgetting that we aren’t getting the full picture prevents us from looking for the missing pieces; a very worrying notion in a world with so many complex issues.




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