With the Internet, we have all of the world’s information at our fingertips. Right? Well, not quite. The algorithms of the devices, operating systems, applications and browsers we use only show us what they think we should see. Our personal filter bubble dictates our newsfeed. How can we break out of our information prison? Keep reading.
Remember that classic 90’s Seinfeld episode: “Bubble Boy”? In this episode the cast visits a youth who lives in quarantine due to an immune deficiency.
Jerry: He’s a bubble boy.
George: A bubble boy?
Jerry: Yes, a bubble boy.
Susan: What’s a bubble boy?
Jerry: He lives in a bubble.
These days, we are all bubble boys and girls!
Our information prison
We are all slaves to the algorithms. Enslaved by large strings of code that are lacking transparancy. Bits and bytes that heavily influence our opinions. We are all living in our own personal filter bubble. A small, but comfortable information prison.
Nearly all the devices, operating systems and applications you use want to get to know you. They want to know your: gender, age and where you live. But that’s not all! They also want to know your: political and sexual preferences. They want to know who your friends are, where you work and what things you like to buy. That is why, when you search Google, you get different results than I get. Also, your Facebook and LinkedIn timelines only show you what they think you want to see.
They match the things they show you with your ‘personal profile’. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice in this. Also, we don’t really know how the algorithms work and what they show us and what they leave out. You can imagine all the dangers that are involved with these custom blinkers we are wearing.
What is a filter bubble?
The term ‘filter bubble’, also known as echo chamber, was first used by Eli Pariser around 2010. He described it as “a state of intellectual isolation that allegedly can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history.” Because of this filter, we become separated from information that disagrees with our viewpoints, effectively isolating us in our own cultural or ideological bubbles.
In Pariser’s 2011 TED talk “Beware online filter bubbles”. Pariser says, “your filter bubble is your own personal, unique universe of information that you live in online. And what’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is that you don’t decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out.”
How to break out of our filter bubble
We can’t depend on the technology giants to help free us. We are all responsible for breaking out of our own personal filter bubble. How can we escape from these comfortable, invisible information prisons?
I believe that the most important thing to battle filter bubbles is: education. We should all be aware of the ‘filter bubble phenomenon’ and learn where to find the right, unbiased information. More importantly: we should teach our children to recognize filter bubbles and show them how to find the information they should use. We should also be aware of all the cookies, user agreements and privacy statements we usually accept without thinking.
The other thing we can do to break out of our filter bubble is very simple: be proactive! Don’t rely on Google, your social media or newsfeed timelines for information. Instead you should actively search for information. Read different types of magazines, newspapers and books (digital or non digital) to get your information and news.