Popping the filter bubbles

By Kasie Von Haden

Lumen Editor

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.

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