Everything Is In a Filter Bubble

Alarmist Filter Bubble

A week and a half ago was DevLearn, I’ve been mulling on writing this post ever since hearing Eli Pariser’s filter bubble talk. I was not at DevLearn, but did take part heavily in the backchannel. I felt like I followed most of the speakers good enough, although still filtered and not as good as being there.

Dangerously Alarmist

One of the keynote speakers really stood out to me, though I was very cautious about his message. To me, Eli Pariser’s keynote felt very alarmist and dangerous in the message it spread. It sort of felt like the local nightly news which filtered information specifically for the shock value.

Out of curiosity, I did a bit of research on the “filter bubble” and watched Eli’s TED talk from 2011. It’s entertaining, but this is where the non-filtered stops.

You can watch the TED talk here:

Information is analyzed and presented in a haphazard way, including the 57 signals that Google search uses to filter your search results.

Everything Has Always Been In A Filter Bubble

Google

A more fair way to look at these signals would be from a positive point of view, such as all signals are helpful and necessary to make sense of your search results. If there is something wrong with a signal, that should then be described further. They are presented as a negative thing.

Signals in this list include things such as the location and language of the user. Google must filter results based on your location and language, it’s absolutely necessary to present what’s relevant to you, and in a language that you speak.

Facebook

As far back as I can remember, Facebook information has been filtered. Every so often filters are changed and privacy is modified, it’s business as usual and to be expected when using a commercial service, and they warn you.

Eli brings up a point that his more conservative friends were slowly filtered out of his feed. This happened because he clicked on more of his liberal friends links, and less on conservative friends links.

The filtering happened on the human side, but the computer side noticed the pattern and tried to adjust accordingly, this sounds beneficial to me as long as I have the last say.

If at any point you decide you don’t like how things are filtering, Facebook makes it very easy to change.

Unfilter Yourself

Buried in all this information and alarm is a good lesson. Unfilter yourself if you believe it’s necessary. You can’t rely on others to filter information, or unfilter it for that matter.

Here are a few good ways to unfilter yourself:

  • Use critical thinking when surfing the Internet. Critical thinking is the number one thing everyone should be taught, and it should be used on the Internet.
  • Follow many people (who add value) and look at what they have to say, or the articles they post. Don’t limit yourself to just your interest, expose yourself to different industries and different points of view.
  • Educate yourself on how Facebook filters and how to use tools like Google properly. It’s all out there in plain English (or whatever your language may be) and most companies aren’t hiding the way they do things.
  • Put the work in when searching for and interpreting information. Don’t expect others to do the work for you, even if filters were not there, it would still take much work to find information outside your bubble, possibly even harder.

Even if you do all of this, you’re still going to have a certain level of filtering in the information you get, sorry.

Example: If you are looking for some feedback on how easy it is for a user to navigate a learning experience, you may start with finding somebody to test it on Twitter. Just by doing this you are limiting yourself to a tech literate crowd, they already are more Internet savvy than the average user who uses say, Facebook (had to throw that in there).

Sorry, the bubble is impossible to escape. Enjoy it, work with it, it’s helpful. Just like the doctor who always tells you to get exercise. Nobody can make you, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

You’re going to have to go out there and get some things, it’s not always going to come to you on a non-filtered silver platter, even if the filters didn’t exist.

Your Bubble

Filter Bubble - The reality is, you are the only one that can make the choice, and no tool will get in the way.

Your bubble can be a great place, and I recommend you take advantage of the Internet being yours, and being what you make of it.

Reach outside what you normally do. Read things you wouldn’t normally read. You can’t expect others, or technology, to do the work for you. Relying on machines to make an educated guess isn’t a bad thing, as long as you make the final decision, and trust me, you do.

The solution to the filter bubble is to expand your personal learning network and vary the sources of your news and information. Don’t rely solely on yourself because as you can see from Eli’s talk, you’re not a good filter, and neither is anybody else.

Positions you disagree with will not be clicked on regardless of Facebook making them visible as long as you decide not to click on them. So, take a risk and click something new.

You are the only one that can personalize your bubble properly; everybody else, human or electronic, can only try to help. Thank them for the help, and then make your final decision.

Still want to wear your tinfoil hat? Have at it:

DuckDuckGo – A search engine which is anonymous and without any “bubble.”

Don’t Bubble (by DuckDuckGo) – Information about how search engine filtering works.

Don’t Track Us (also by DuckDuckGo) – More information on how tracking and filtering works.

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