There is a new form of self-indulgent online unaware narcissism going on — news filtering. Many of the most popular internet sites are skewing the information that you see online, to your likes and habits. And while some argue that this helpful tool personalizes the web, Eli Pariser thinks that it is turning us all into The Bubble Boy. Have the likes of Facebook and Google and the Filter Bubble they creatd become the new Ministry of Truth, manufacturing the news feeds as they see fit?
Pariser coined the term “the filter bubble” for this new phenomenon of social and skewed searching — a way of enclosing yourself into your own world. But “you don’t choose it” says Pariser, your bubble is chosen for you by news aggregators based on their opinions are of what you want to see — based on your past browsing history.
This new form of skewed searching is supposed to give people what they want, but the ramifications for culture, politics and the news itself run deep.
In a recent TED Talk Pariser said he first noticed the change on Facebook, where his news feed began editing out his conservative friends in favor of his more liberal friends, based on his click through rate in the past. After further research he learned that this goes far beyond Facebook — it includes other sites, including Google. Google for example uses 57 different parameters to skew your search to you, including your physical location, and even your OS type. While Google’s algorithmic search results are machine-generated — it still smacks of the days of old when newspapers were the gatekeepers of information — deciding what we will and will not see. It is still a filter, you don’t choose it, and you may not even be aware of it.
In a helpful illustration he highlighted the search results from his two friends who he had asked to participate — one friend was a conservative and the other a liberal. The results from each friend were completely different, and were skewed towards their political leanings and prior search history
Friend #1 search “Egypt” on Google and received results on the crisis in Egypt, the protests of 2011 and Lara Logan.
Friend #2 also searched “Egypt” on Google and his results focused on travel, vacation, the Egypt Daily News and the CIA World Factbook.
While most people understand that this is occurring — they are not consciously aware of the ramifications. Catered search results might be great for consumers and online retailers, but it is bad for citizenry. Seeing as the majority of people receive their news online — and primarily from Facebook and Google — this has far reaching implications as they are filtering out opposing view points to our own and catering our internet to the internet they think we want. But how can we have news without the objectivity the was engrained in us with journalism. And how can we be global democratic citizens with a Big Brother-like approach to the news?
“It doesn’t expose us to points of view that challenge our thinking,” says Pariser.