According to Eli Pariser, in the online world, each user has their own “unique universe of information”. He refers to this little universe as a “filter bubble”. Regardless of whether or not a person wants to be a part of these constructs, they exist all around us. Everything we do online is tracked and monitored, and each of us experience a different internet because of this. Corporations and algorithms tailor the online experience uniquely to each person, to satisfy the needs of their customers, and can even predict what they may want next. For example, Target had such a sophisticated algorithm that it found out a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did. This case is extreme, but it shows that the internet is a complicated place where content is edited meticulously for the individual.
Although some of the content editing that occurs online is a result of corporations and companies, many individuals are responsible for editing the content they view online. Platforms like Facebook are great ways to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the world, whether it be pictures your best friend posted from their wedding, to your uncle ranting about the election online. Although Facebook is slightly responsible for deciding which posts you see, some of us delete the content off of our feeds that we don’t agree with, whether that be unfriending someone or unfollowing them.
Being stuck inside a filter bubble can be problematic. By only listening or reading things that you already agree with, you don’t allow for new ideas to be introduced and end up in an online echo chamber. Even though this can be harmful, I am guilty of unfriending people who don’t agree with my political or ideological leanings. That’s not to say I unfriend every Republican on my Facebook, that would be ridiculous, and I would be cutting out some people that I really care about. But when people post malicious or ignorant ideas online, or go off on rants about topics that I don’t agree with, I tend to lose patience and unfriend them. As a result of this, in recent months I have rarely encountered ideas that differ from my own online.
Even though filter bubbles can be harmful, they’re the reality of the online world. There’s an infinite amount of content online, and it would be impossible to comb through all of it. By having our own bubbles, we can focus on the content that we believe is most relevant to us and our interests, whether these bubbles were created by choice or unknowingly by corporations. Either way, it’s something that we need to live with, and by understanding them, we can hopefully begin to counter the negative effects.