“A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Eli Pariser remembers growing up in Maine, where a connection to the internet meant unfettered exposure to a democratic world community. But, as he scrolls through his Facebook News Feed, this multi-view environment has all but disappeared.
Instead, the online content he consumes is determined by algorithmic criteria that includes his computer model, location and past searches. Unlike the Internet Pariser’s younger self dreamed of, information is tailored and packaged to each individual consumer.
We’re living in a filter bubble. And popular sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t denying it. They say it’s all about your network.
“We don’t want to have editorial judgement over the content of your feed. You’ve made your friends, you’ve connected to the pages that you want to connect to and you’re the best decider for the things you care about,” Facebook engineer Greg Marra told the New York Times.
Where is the value in that? Should a line be drawn between what we want to see and what we need to see? How can we avoid the information junk food Pariser fears?
According to a Pew Research Center study, 30 percent of adults get their news from Facebook. But is it really ‘news’ if users are continually consuming the same stuff from the same people? Pablo Barberá, a doctoral candidate at NYU studying social media usage, warns against these limited perspectives.
“As we move from a world in which traditional media outlets control the content we receive to a world in which most of the content is coming from our friends, it’s really important to understand who your friends are,” he told the New York Times.
A recent study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research proves the consequences of filtering, which is often invisible. The study analyzed the Twitter accounts of 2.2 million users throughout the 2012 election and found that 90 percent of both conservatives and liberals were receiving information from users with the same political viewpoint. How would viewpoints change if users were exposed to more information?
Pariser argues we should go back to 1915, when people read the newspaper, not tweets or status updates. He calls for a renewed code of journalistic ethics and a sense of civic responsibility.
Is our information consumption completely and totally on us? Do media sites share this responsibility?
How can we pop the filter bubble?