By Kasie Von Haden
Facebook banner ads are annoying, let’s be honest. But, more often than not, I see ads and promotions for things I’m interested in. Most of us are already aware of how those ads pop-up; they appear based on what we’ve previously clicked, websites we’ve gone to, items we’ve searched, and things our friends and we “like.”
This process of tailoring things to individuals is what’s referred to as a “filter bubble.”
Websites such as Facebook and Google use algorithms to calculate previous clicks and where we’re located to provide us with relevant information that aims to be the best result based on what our past internet behavior has been.
Amazon and Netflix provide suggestions based on what we’ve purchased before or what we may be interested in based on our browsing habits.
Big Brother Internet is…watching me?
After watching Eli Pariser’s TED Talks about filter bubbles, I’m convinced they are real, but, unlike Pariser, I’m not quite convinced these filter bubbles are a bad thing.
Pariser, whose book, The Filter Bubble, will be coming out in May, believes that filter bubbles are narrowing our worldview because we receive search results, ads, and suggestions based on what we already know and prefer. Therefore, we are not receiving new or challenging ideas or topics.
During his video, Pariser gave an example of two of his friends who searched the word “Egypt” on Google. His friends took screenshots of what results appeared. One person received links about the crisis in Egypt, the protests of 2011, and Lara Logan, the CBS news reporter who was raped in Egypt, whereas the other friend received results about travel and vacations, Egypt Daily News, and CIA World Facebook. The reason they received such different responses is because of their previous search habits.
“The Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see,” Pariser said in the video.
But what do we need to see?
If the second friend wanted to find out the best vacation deals for Egypt, then his search results were great. Perhaps he didn’t want to read about any of the current political or social events in Egypt. Granted, the word “Egypt” is quite broad, but if these results were what the people were searching for, then what’s wrong with that?
Pariser has been heavily involved in political movements and organizing groups of people online for specific purposes, so it makes sense that he would want people to be aware of news and current events. Is that the Internet’s responsibility, though?
I think filter bubbles are smart, especially for consumer sites like Amazon and entertainment sites like Netflix. If I’m using one of these sites, I likely have a specific item in mind; the suggestions generated by that item will likely be of interest to me. If I want something different, I’ll look for it. Pariser thinks the Internet ought to have that responsibility. For him, the Internet should be providing new links so we can learn more, see more, and be challenged.
For me, it’s a matter of social responsibility. We shouldn’t be relying on an algorithm to present us with new information; we should actively seek out new, different, and challenging information on our own.
We’ve already let technology and the Internet override enough aspects of our lives. It’s time we start being proactive in what we search, what we click, and how much information we give the Internet if we want to pop the filter bubbles.