Filter Bubble: Breaking Out of the Over-Personalised Internet!

Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet - Behrouz Jafarnezhad.png

Do you know what Filter Bubble is? The term, Filter Bubble, first started to get attention after Eli Pariser used it in his famous TEDTalk and [eafl id=4698 name="Book - Filter Bubble" text="best-selling book"] back in 2011. Filter bubble refers to a condition where sites and services on the Internet get to know you, and then they only show you the stuff they think you would want to see. This means everything becomes more and more personalised - I mean over-personalised - to the point where we won't see anything outside of our "interests" or our "comfort zone". Here, in this post I'm explaining why this is a concern, and how to break out of this bubble.

The Internet, Connectivity and Democracy

So, what made the Internet so awesome? Wasn't it the idea of "all information in all places at all times" (Godfrey & Parkhill, 1979) and "to connect?"

You can't say those goals haven't been reached - at least to some extent, but along the way, we lost something else. Something as important as the internet itself. We lost the balance. How? By everything being tailored for usby algorithms on the internet, based on their idea of RELEVANCE!

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.
— Mark Zuckerberg

With many of the internet giants, like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Amazon, doing all the relevance-based tailoring, we are only being fed what they think we want to be fed with. And what makes this worse is that whole thing is invisible, therefore many of us don't know it exists.

We don't see others' Google search results. We don't see others' Facebook news feed. We don't see others' Yahoo news pages. Even if we're friends with the same people, what we see on our Facebook news feed is unique, because it's not just about your friends. It's about what Facebook thinks is relevant to you. It's the same for Google, Yahoo and every other service with some kind of recommendation engine built in - which is pretty much every service on the Internet nowadays.

Don't get me wrong, I actually support recommendations when it comes to consumer products or services. However, personalisation worries me when not only it changes what we buy, but the way we think.

There's no democracy where citizens are not exposed to multiple viewpoints and don't have a chance to engage with them.

Although sometimes inconvenient, it's necessary to keep a balanced flow of information - like this:

Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet - Freedom
Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet - Freedom

instead, we get stuck in our own filter bubble:

Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet
Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet

The worst part is though that we start to forget what diversity looked like! And then we forget that it even existed! And we'll be like this - isolated:

Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet - Filtered
Filter Bubble - Over-Personalised Internet - Filtered

And this would be the result:

A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn ... (since there is) invisible auto-propaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas.
— Eli Pariser

And the problem is that we, as the users, don't get a say in it. We don't get to choose what we see. And more important, we don't see what we're missing out! It's all being decided for us in a not-very-democratic way! And it's killing many other viewpoints.

In a world without diversity, there won't be any creativity; there won't be anything new. All there will be is what's familiar! What's routine! And an all-familiar routine isn't the best, is it?

If you think that adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s deadly.
— Daniele Quercia

How to Break out of the Filter Bubble?

Well, a big part of it is up to those who are deciding what we should see! Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Netflix, etc. Keeping it transparent and giving the user a chance to choose is step one!

One thing I can suggest, to burst the filter bubble, is to use some kind of private browsing on your browsers, such as Google Chrome's Incognito and Safari and Mozilla Firefox's private browsing - at least sometimes. Also, when logged in, try clicking/tapping on the links that in the first sight you don't find interesting.

In addition to everything we do, the main solution is to use other social networks, such as Twitter and Instagram instead of Facebook. Why? Because they don't filter what you see. You simply follow people, and you can see all their posts in your timeline (plus ads, of course!) and nothing gets edited out. So, at least you have the chance not to miss out on anything (as of January 2015! And even that might change soon according to rumours around Twitter!)

I'm not saying that abandoning Facebook altogether (like I did!) or Google is the sharpie to burst the filter bubble with, all I'm saying is that we should try to (1) take control of what we are being exposed to and then (2) keeping it balanced.