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Opening Arguments

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

Yesterday I wrote about the ways social media might be changing the way we consume news. Now I guess we should worry about the Google "filter bubble":

But perhaps the most troubling accusation about the search giant is that it distorts our view of the world, giving us a fatally flawed idea of what is going on around us.

This problem is known as the “filter bubble”: as Google learns from your searches and makes its results increasingly personalised and tailored to you, you stop seeing anything else.

On the one hand, that helps you to get exactly the results you are looking for, but on the downside, you stop encountering the ways other people see and interact with the world.

The phrase was invented by Eli Pariser in 2011, but as the internet becomes ever more customisable, the risks posed by the filter bubble become more pervasive.

In the same way, your Facebook news feed is programmed to show the posts you “care about”, so articles containing conflicting opinions and perspectives melt away, along with friends with different lives.

If you’re lazy about catching up on political or world news, you could quickly become entirely ignorant of it.

This seems a bit overblown to me.

"If you’re lazy about catching up on political or world news, you could quickly become entirely ignorant of it." But hasn't this always been so? I check Google News several times a time, which shows me stories from media outlets around the world, and it keeps me pretty informed. Anyone who wants to do this as well can. Those who were lazy before Google will still be, but for those of us who don't want to remain ignored, staying informed is easier than ever.

And if, in the meantime, my searches feed into a program that customizes my results, that's fine with me. It means I see more stuff I'm interested in and less stuff that I don't care about. If I develop a sudden yen to learn something about nude ballet in the developing world, I can easily enter the search terms.  Amazon nudges me with suggestions all the time based on the items I've previously ordered, and I'm free to respond or not. 

As with most things digital, what we're seeing here is just the acceleration of the reality that was already there. There have always been People Magazine readers who desperately follow the Kardashians and U.S. News & World Report reades who want the details of the Iran nuclear deal.


Posted in: Web/Tech