Monday, April 3, 2017

Unfollow Me If You Don't Agree: Filters Bubbles on Social Media

As you log into Facebook, your news feed may consist of an overload of people’s trips over spring break, an incessant reminder of someone’s birthday, or an addicting amount of baking videos.

But then you see it.

The girl you’ve known since elementary school but never had a real conversation with has shared a video about the misconceptions of Planned Parenthood’s services -- and there’s an endless thread of comments of people arguing whose viewpoint is right.  Controversial opinions and political standpoints may garner some attention from followers of differing perspectives, however unwanted.  People may argue to no end about their stance on an issue and the only relief appears to be a simple phrase: If you don’t agree, you can unfollow me.  

Although you may quell the flames on a single post, encouraging people to unfollow you because they don’t agree can add to a growing problem on the Internet.  Eli Pariser cites news feeds like Facebook “becoming a primary news source -- 36 percent of Americans under thirty get their news through social networking sites.”  If we’re filtering out people’s opinions we don’t like, we’re only receiving news from sources that reinforce our own perspective, ultimately enclosing us all in “parallel but separate universes.”

Personally, I’m not vocal enough on Facebook to proclaim anyone should unfollow me for my views.  But, I have resisted clicking the unfollow button.  I want to hear differing opinions rather than pretend they don’t exist.  Yet, even though I’ve made sure not to limit myself in these situations, I have to wonder how diverse my circle is in the first place.  I don’t actively look for people with different ideologies than me and generally the posts I’m liking or pages I’m following have something to do with what I believe in already.  

Pariser suggests this can be just as harmful.  

Without us even knowing, the Internet has placed us in “filter bubbles” where everything we see strategically caters to what we have liked and searched for in the past.  We may notice this when we click on a pair of boots while shopping online, only to be haunted by them a few hours later when we log into Facebook.  However, the same strategy is not only applicable to what we’re shopping for anymore.  On social networking sites, filter bubbles are advertising your opinions back to you, deciding what you will see on your news feed based on the types of posts you like or click on.  Pariser argues the danger of this personalization is the fact “you haven’t chosen the criteria” of the filter, so “it’s easy to imagine that the information that comes through a filter bubble is unbiased, objective, true” when in reality we have no way of realizing how biased the information may be.

Although we should take into account whether our reasons for unfollowing anyone are reasonable or just a way to further filter the opinions we see on social media, in the era of the filter bubble we no longer have complete control over our choice to unfollow someone.


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