Monday, April 3, 2017

Popping the Filter Bubble

On my Facebook feed, there’s a variety of posts that ranges from current events and social justice rants to videos of puppies falling down the stairs. If I look to the right, my classmate’s feed might be filled with Greek life posts and top vacay destinations for spring break. To the left, Mr. Trump’s grin might be plastered all over his or her wall. The point is that we are stuck in a web of the familiar.

When the elections were just beginning to show the divisive nature of America’s politics, I was shocked that there were people who even supported any of Trump’s statements or policies. All over my own Facebook feed, all I saw were like-minded college students and young adults who were aghast at some of the ideas that the Trump Campaign suggested. However, I soon realized the truth; I was filtering my own bubble. I was slowly unfriending and unfollowing every opinion that was different than mine. Someone supports gay conversion practice? Block. Building a wall to physically manifest hatred and lack of humanitarian support towards immigrants? Unfollow. Cat videos instead of dog pictures? Unfriend!

In reality, the Internet is the greatest and most influential source of news and events for many of us, and power is shocking. Not only do we personally curate the information that we want to see on our feeds by following certain resources, but we are also subject to prediction engines that do the filtering for us. The Internet knows what we want to see; if I’m online shopping for a pair of shoes, you can bet that there will be an advertisement for the same pair of boots while I’m innocently scrolling down my Facebook feed. These occurrences are not accidental; they are purposeful to appeal to our preferences and wants.

Perhaps this filter bubble is a solution to the Juggler’s Brain, which is the idea that there is so much information out there that we can not possibly understand all of it.  Instead, we are constantly distracted by technology and the vast amount of resources on the Internet. We are overwhelmed by resources. If we are given only certain ideologies to follow on the Internet, then there isn’t so much for us to juggle. However, this thought process forgets another fundamental problem with the Juggler’s Brain; we are losing our ability to be deep thinkers.

That’s right, if knowledge that already fits our ideologies is constantly forced upon us, there is no way that we can be aware of those ideologies that are different from us. It’s why I was unable to see that Trump supporters even existed and was confused by the large following that he had amassed; there weren’t any of his followers on my friend list, but they were certainly out there. What about the days of the agora where we could openly and freely discuss ideas in a common space? How will we learn to be great debaters and thoughtful orators if we are not exposed to the argument of the other?

We don’t choose to enter the bubble, and it’s hard to avoid the way that the Internet filters our information for us. The theory of technological determinism explains how our society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and the values of our culture. In that way, the Internet is an incredibly powerful and persuasive tool because it shapes the lens that we see the world through. When we are alone inside the bubble, divulging in all of our personalized information, the image from outside of the bubble is distorted. It’s different from what we are used to, and it can seem like unwanted or even unwarranted information.

The filter bubble is a scary process, but it’s extremely vital to understand the theory behind it. If not, we’ll be unknowingly entrapped in a set of ideologies and information without being exposed to enriching and new ideas beyond our feeds and followings.

Check out this article by Forbes entitled “7 Things You Can Do to Burst Your Social Media Filter Bubble” to try and expand your bubble. Scarily enough, all I had to do was type in “do you” on my Google search engine, and the phrase “do you underline article titles” immediately popped up. Indeed, the Internet is watching us, and like an overbearing parent, it’s making sure we only get the information that will “help” us.

If you are specifically looking for ways to pop your political bubble, this article might be useful to you as well:

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