Have you every noticed after making an online purchase, advertisements for the same company you made your purchase from, or similar ones appear everywhere? Maybe they’re displayed beside your Facebook or YouTube feed or other sites you frequent, but have you ever wondered why and too what effect?
Eli Pariser author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, calls it the ‘filter bubble’ the internet’s way of personalising and customising information (Pariser 2011). All your online activities are used in algorithms to recommend material that matches your ideologies (Pariser 2011). How many times have you bought or looked at recommendations from Amazon, YouTube, Netflix or Apple’s iTunes? These suggestions have an incredible influence on a consumer’s viewing and purchasing habits (Hosanagar, Fleder, Lee & Buja 2014). Netflix reports that over sixty per cent of its rentals come from these recommendations (Hosanagar, Fleder, Lee & Buja 2014).
While previously argued that the internet increases the availability of perspectives and ideas, a new argument is that algorithms used by search engines limit the diversity of information (Bozday & van den Hoven 2015). Users can now obtain different information using the same keyword, because information is prioritized, filtered and obscured according to a user’s previous interaction (Bozday & van den Hoven 2015). In an article titled Mind Control and the Internet, Sue Halpern compares the internet’s personalised search process to looking up the same topic in an encyclopaedia, only to find different entries. Rather than have a standardised search, your now directed to pages likely to reinforce your ideologies, rather than challenge them (Halpern 2011). Bozday and van den Hoven (2015) point out that in political situations, people potentially may never see contrasting material on a political or moral issue. This a serious concern, as functioning democracies depend on voters who are exposed and informed with a diverse range of political views (Flaxman, Goel & Rao 2016).
But some scholars like Benkler (2006) argue the internet provides choice and that social networks expose users to a variety of ideas. Through news media companies allowing people to share news content on social media, material from different news providers is displayed in a single location, increasing variety (Messing & Westwood 2014). These recommendations have the potential to share information and help users widen their interests and create commonality (Hosanagar, Fleder, Lee & Buja 2014).
So thinking about your own online interactions, are you own ideals reflected back at you? Or do your interactions encourage you to branch out and seek diversity? Just remember Pariser’s (2011) warning that once placed in a ‘filter bubble’ people are not even aware of or know what they are missing.
Benkler, Y 2006, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale University Press, New Haven
Bozdag, E & van den Hoven, J 2015, “Breaking the filter bubble: democracy and design”, Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 249-265
Flaxman, S, Goel, S & Rao, J.M 2016, “Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Online News Consumption”, Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 80, no. S1, pp. 298-320
Halpern, S 2011, “Mind Control and the Internet”, The New York Review of Books, June 23 Issue, available at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2011/06/23/mind-control-and-internet/
Hosanagar, K, Fleder, D, Lee, D & Buja, A 2014, “Will the Global Village Fracture Into Tribes? Recommender Systems and Their Effects on Consumer Fragmentation”, Management Science, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 805-823
Messing, S & Westwood, S.J 2014, “Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan Source Affiliation When Selecting News Online”, Communication Research, vol. 41, no. 8, p. 1042-1063
Pariser, E 2011, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, Penguin Press, New York
Pariser, E. (2016). Beware online “filter bubbles”. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en#t-53894 [Accessed 30 Aug. 2016].