Friday, April 1, 2016

Don’t Settle for Internet Junk Food: beware of the “filter bubble”

I am on a media binge 24/7. As an advertiser, the Internet is a vital platform, and the “filter bubble” concept concerns me as a young professional. Yes, many would argue I spend an unhealthy amount of time in front of a screen, but despite popular belief, I am not frivolous with my clicks. My Google searches are purposeful, and they pertain to the expansion of my knowledge bank (for the most part). I view the Internet as a critical resource to further my career, and gain insight. With this being said, I was disgusted to hear my “purposeful” searches had been altered without my consent or knowledge.  The internet is now being patrolled by algorithmic gatekeepers, who are feeding us junk food, and subtly eliminating the veggies and fruits we need to grow.

I first heard of this issue a few years ago when a fellow photographer posted a link to a TED Talk, on how most photographer’s photos were only getting viewed by 12 percent of the acquired Facebook friends. ONLY 12PERCENT! How is someone supposed to advertise to an audience at a 12 percent view? So, what junk food am I being fed, and more importantly, what nutrition am I missing out on.

This issue arose in a very timely manner. The liberal vs conservative contrast has emphasized the filter bubble concept to the extreme. One of my greatest fears in life is getting too comfortable, and being too ignorant. Yes, I am a full-fledged conservative, but understanding the opposing argument is just as important as understanding my own. The filter bubble is slowly taking that opportunity away from the public, therefore polarizing people.

I conducted a little experiment of my own just to see how the Internet gatekeepers have infiltrated our information intake Through search engines.  I asked to different friends at two different universities to Goggle “republican’. Then I asked them to send me a screenshot of the top of their search results. Despite the belief that Google will automatically dish out the “top hits” for every key word, this experiment proved the contrary. Lauren, a student at CU Denver, reported her top five hits all pertaining to the republican primaries. Stories like “Trump clears the air with Republican Leaders”, and “Will the Republican party survive the 2016 election”. Meanwhile, Curtis, a student at Iowa State, reported his top link defining the word “republican”, followed by NY Times articles discussing famous republicans, followed by an Urban Dictionary link.

Now, in the defense of tailored information, I see the value. Advertising these days is getting more and more specific to an audience. A filter bubble will direct a brand’s promotion to the niche audience, saving money and time. Unfortunately, I will go against my career aspirations for a moment to ask: is tailored information best for the public?

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