Opinion, Science & Tech, World

The Filter Bubble: Our Internet Echo Chamber

Let’s be honest, we all think we have life figured out. We like the best stuff, we know the most, and everyone seems to agree with us. Those who don’t are not only far inferior but also outnumbered. But are they really? Most of what we think of as real is actually selectively fed to us by what is called a Filter Bubble through internet services like Facebook and Google. We are living in a technology Echo Chamber.

It’s great fun to be correct, that’s why we selectively chose to surround us with people we connect with. We are social beings and therefore long for social interaction and acceptance of everything we are, including our views and beliefs. There is a high chance that most of your friends have the same or at least similar beliefs and interests you have, which is a natural behavior. In fact, having your views endorsed and validated by a third party has profound psychological effects, acting as positive reinforcement. This little high of endorphins in our brain encourages us to seek out validation. While that may be news to you, it has been known and used by major corporations for decades. It lies at the core of major internet services to personalize your experience online. A procedure that has been given the name Filter Bubble or Echo Chamber.

A History of Gatekeepers

We would like to think that we are mostly in charge of how we receive and process information. However, that is far from the truth. In fact, humanity never was. How could we be? There is a vast amount of ever-evolving information around the globe so that we have to rely on someone to sort this raw bulk of data into conceivable, organized and rehashed packages – the news.

Since the beginning of news and newspapers, editors and corporations functioned as gatekeepers to control access to information for the masses. Newspapers used to (and some still do) report on topics in ways to either influence public behavior, force specific views or cater to already existing outlooks.

We’d like to think that those gatekeepers are gone now, but they’re very much still there. They just got more methodical. With the invention and adaption of the internet in the past decades, it became an opportunity to connect individuals with the world. It provided access to this vast unfiltered bulk of information that we were formerly shielded from by the gatekeepers. Little did we know that technology poses a greater risk than any newspaper ever had, introducing the mightiest and least morally challenged gatekeeper of them all – the Filter Bubble. It builds a shield of filters around us and entraps us in our own Echo Chamber of approved believes, validation and information.

The Internet Filter Bubble

It is important to keep in mind that everything we do on the internet is exchanging data while, at the same time, creating new data. Everything we look at and click on is potentially collected by major companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. You don’t even have to have accounts with them, they know what you look at, and they have a pretty good idea what your worldviews, opinions, and preferences are. It would be naive to think that the fact that we are connected to the internet freed us from the devious guidance we used to know when it comes to information. Unless you are a first-hand witness of something, there is always a middle-man that stands between you and the raw facts.

The term Filter Bubble was coined by Eli Parise, which held several interviews and talks on the topic, as well as writing a book. He took a very close look at the practices of internet service companies and how they personalize their services for the user. Those companies create a Filter Bubble around us by carefully selecting content they know we are interested in and, in turn, feel validated by. The problem is that it undermines the very idea of the internet.

Instead of being connected to everything at once, a Filter Bubble isolates us, creating a so-called Echo Chamber. They cause ideological segregation on an elementary level. It feeds us what it knows we like and think, convinces us that we are right about everything and that everyone shares our worldview because we don’t see or realize that vast chunks of information is omitted. A Filter Bubble is, at its very core, an algorithm acting on the data we feed it by interacting with services like Google and Facebook.

Our Personal Echo Chamber

A Filter Bubble is a methodical gatekeeper creating said Echo Chamber. It isn’t concerned with right or wrong; its only goal is effectiveness. And that is what it does best. It’s the reason for the rapid increase of fake news, feeding the rapid rise of radical political movements. These technologies aren’t keeping our sanity in check, they don’t challenge us, and they play with our egos in dangerous ways.

The problem is we are already used to having online contents personalized to our beliefs and needs, which is progress that is hard to reverse. The only way to counteract the algorithmic Filter Bubble around us and the Echo Chamber we are entrapped in is to ask questions, be curious and challenge ourselves with different views and outlooks. Otherwise we, as a society, continue living at the mercy of a predetermined information flow that only benefits the corporations that cash in on our selective and egotistical behavior.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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