A filter bubble is an intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption.
Websites make these assumptions based on the information related to the user, such as former click behavior, browsing history, search history, and location. For that reason, the websites are more likely to present only information that will abide by the user’s past activity.
A filter bubble, therefore, can cause users to get significantly less contact with contradicting viewpoints, causing the user to become intellectually isolated.
Personalized search results from Google and personalized news stream from Facebook are two perfect examples of this phenomenon.
What are filters and where exactly is the “bubble?”
Language and location are the two most basic filters Google and other sites use to deliver personalized results. If you are searching Google for an electrician and you speak English and live in Ohio, Google knows there’s no need to show you the link to a bilingual electrician in Texas.
There are many other factors that Google and others use to personalize results to you. All of these filters create a bubble around you. The information that filters deem important to you goes into the bubble; the rest stays outside of the bubble and does not show up in search results.
The term filter bubble was coined by internet activist Eli Pariser in his book, “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You” (2011).
Pariser relates a case in which a user searches for “BP” on Google and gets investment news regarding British Petroleum as the search result, while another user receives details on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for the same keyword. These two search results are noticeably different and could affect the searchers’ impression of the news surrounding the British Petroleum company.
According to Pariser, this bubble impact could have adverse effects on social discourse. However, others say the impact is negligible.
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.
Here is what Mark Zuckerberg said emphasizing the importance of news feed in Facebook and how they need to customized from user to user:
Rarely do we go past the page-1 of our Google searches? Highly filtered results (which most of us prefer – living in a bubble), meaning other stuff gets demoted. And the personalization increases as algorithm gets more training on your interests, and thus the wall of bubble goes thicker and thicker.
Why are Filter Bubbles Bad?
After a while 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 negative of personalization and filter bubbles is that you will only see information that you like. Google is not going to challenge or disagree with you. (Its search results and what flows into your “bubble” are all based on algorithms.) It’s important to know, you’re only seeing one side of the story: Your side. When we are only surrounded by information and people we agree with, we miss opportunities to learn and grow.
The other con associated with the bubble is Page Ranking. Search engines use this to categorize, and rank pages based on the number of hits or popularity of a given website or content. This doesn’t make the information accurate, but we tend to believe that because it ranks higher in the search than other websites it must be legit. This takes away our ability to dig deeper for relevant information.
How can you burst out of it?
In order to burst the filter bubble following steps can be handy.
- To get rid of your search history.
- To turn off targeted ads using ad blocking software
- Ensuring that you delete your browser cookies
- Disabling tracking cookie features
- Keeping your Facebook data private, altogether!
- Going incognito or anonymous
- Private search engines are a great way to avoid filter bubbles.
What is the difference between the Filter Bubble and Personalisation?
Personalisation is the process and filter bubble the result. Personalization makes you only see stuff in your feed that is supposed to be relevant to you. That creates a filter bubble in which everything else is filtered out.
Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” – Watch the eight minute video of his speech at Ted 2011.
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