Burst your filter bubble

Psst? Wanna know a secret? The Internet is indoctrinating you with your own ideas and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Where do you get your news? Who do you follow on social media? Be honest, does your feed provide you a steady stream of information that is culturally and ideologically similar to your own?

In a TED talk, Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, talks about a sudden realisation he had on Facebook: friends who shared similar political beliefs showed up on his news feed more than those who shared opposing ones – he couldn’t see the posts of his conservative friends due to a feature called the personalization process.

From our emails to our recommendations, news feeds, advertisements – personalisation is the data driven process that that tailors web content for specific demographics. It steers you towards the content that advertisers have calculated you want to see, so the regular websites and apps you use become predictive tools and creates what we call the “filter bubble”. The effect it has on users forms a subtle form of influence which Pariser believes creates “a kind of invisible propaganda… indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are already familiar… [with] less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning.” Platforms build their own understanding of you, and usually don’t let you control how your data is used (see Facebook).

But how much of the blame can we pin on Silicon Valley? According to Frank Bruni, we shouldn’t be so quick to point the finger:

“Unseen puppet masters on Mark Zuckerberg’s payroll aren’t to blame. We’re the real culprits. When it comes to elevating one perspective above all others and herding people into culturally and ideologically inflexible tribes, nothing that Facebook does to us comes close to what we do to ourselves.”

We selectively look for information, consume certain news outlets and follow social media users that fit our own agendas – and that’s when it becomes dangerous. We customise the news we consume and the political beliefs we’re exposed to, reducing a space for debate and conversation. Debate and conversation that is undoubtedly necessary for our society to blossom – the less communication we have, the more divisive we become.

Politics start with conversation. We must allow a space for dialogue across the divides of politics, just as we try to do for religion, race and sex. Some of the most eye-opening interactions I’ve had are with those who hold opposing views to my own. You learn the most from those who you disagree with. Instead of demonizing those in your life that hold non-PC beliefs, a good resolution would be to start engaging in open and honest discussions – try and understand why and more importantly, where these beliefs stem from.

The Echo Chamber Club is a newsletter that offers a variety of opinions of trending topics. The founder, Alice Thwaite, has expressed her discomfort with personalised articles automated via an algorithm, and so put together the newsletter with the aim to inform readers so they can then develop opinions free from manipulation. The echo chamber may be comforting, but ultimately the consequences of not analysing our sources of information and our biases are dire. To counteract this, it may be worthwhile to become more discerning at analysing our sources – and more difficult perhaps, we need not to cling to something solely because it chimes with our beliefs. It might be a good idea to make 2019 the year of healthy discussion and questioning not only our opponents’ sources, but our own too.

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