The Filter Bubble Is a Problem of Trust

“Are online social network sites (SNS) narrowing our information streams, leaving us less exposed to a diversity of views, as Eli [Pariser] warns?” (The Filter Bubble)

The Filter Bubble is a new book from Eli Pariser arguing that our immersion in social networks and frequent use of Google to find and filter information is leading to a narrowing of our information inputs, as we pick and choose who we want to talk to and hear.

On NPR a few weeks ago, Pariser shared an example: Google personalizes your search results based on your prior search behavior and browsing history. If you’re a Democrat, for example, with a history of visiting Democratic websites and reading DailyKos, when you search for “Barack Obama”, you’re going to get results tailored to your history, with positive treatment of the President. If you’re a frequent visitor of Fox News, however, you might get directed to sites critical of the President first.

If you don’t know this is happening, I could see how you might be outraged. But the problem with this Filter Bubble concept is the presumption that Google or Facebook owe us open information. They are for profit companies. Buyers should beware.

The outrage comes easily – “Facebook isn’t showing me all my Republican friends!” – and the outrage might reinforce your sense of yourself as an open-minded person. But you’re forgetting who Google and Facebook’s audiences really are. Advertisers.

I am no conspiracy theorist, but if you are depending on Facebook and Google to interpret and bottleneck your information networks, you’re trusting too much. These are for profit companies who have duties to advertisers. Many fewer duties to you. No one service or network or company should be the only way you connect with your friends and information services.

So what can you do about it? The first step, of course, is to master the settings on your preferred networks. In Facebook, you can scroll to the very bottom of your Newsfeed and click on “Edit Options” on the right side. Make sure it’s set to “Show Posts from All Your Friends and Pages”. In Google, clear your cookies and remove your web history. Pariser’s site has tips on fixing these settings.

The second step, of course, is to live a real, unpredictable, unfiltered life. You, and no one else, are responsible for your education and your information. Google doesn’t owe you anything. You have probably never paid them directly for anything in your life – so be happy that you get to use their high quality, free services in exchange for them making a dollar off of you.

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