Monday, September 29, 2014

The Filter Bubble in Conflict Zones

The emergence of social media has become a pathway for average people across the world to communicate and exchange ideas. In theory, social media should be an unrestrained path to access information, where everyone can research similar pages. However, this is usually not the case. Many newsfeeds and timelines are directly tailored for the specific user viewing the information. Whether it be local advertisements or one-sided political posts, the filters use an algorithm based on your past online experience to make decisions on what you see. This doesn’t sound like the free exchange of ideas that the Internet promised, but rather it creates a system of secular ideas that become even more withdrawn from any opposing beliefs. The isolation has been intimately referred to as the “filter bubble”. In the scheme of things, the “filter bubble” has been relatively benign in peaceful Western countries. However, what happens when the “filter bubble” is extended to war torn areas?
            This past summer the conflict between Gaza and Israel reached a boiling point as missiles streamed overhead both territories. In the end, the conflict was only resolved with a new dialogue between the opposing sides. In this case, persuasion, with effective Dissoi Logoi, could have meant the end of the bloody conflict much sooner. However, popular support for each of their respective sides fueled the continuing war effort. Many sources report social media may have been a contributing factor to the war cries. A Data Scientist with Betaworks, Gilad Lotan noticed that in pro-Israel areas, it took a great amount of effort to find any type of contradictory narratives. “When looking at the events and especially when you're in Israel at the thick of it, it is so hard to get away from it. So you get this polarization in Israeli society as well that makes it even tougher to look at the other side.”  Only bringing like-minds together has stifled any true discourse between the warring sides. However if you can reach beyond the algorithms and interact with others not like yourself, it can provide for an enriching experience.

            Although the “filter bubble” has harmed a true discourse in Gaza, there are both technological affordances and constraints to social media. Its relatively anonymous nature allows for unpopular opinions to surface on either side of the border without ramifications. In traditional debate settings, these minorities would be condemned for their beliefs, so many would choose not to speak at all. Although anonymity allows for minority involvement, it can come at the expense of quality debate. It hinders one of the major tenants of argumentation: ethos. In the absence of ethos, it is difficult to gauge credibility because it becomes unclear why an audience should adopt their stance over another.  With all things, users have to weigh the benefits and consequences when using social media as opposed to formal means of communications. Also there has to be a bit of social responsibility on the part of Internet giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook, especially when the stakes can be this high.
Sunstein reading

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