Breaking Free From The Online Filter Bubble

Tia Winter | 21 May 2018

Bursting the Internet information bubbleIt’s a fact: we surround ourselves with people who believe more or less in the same things that we do, hold the same moral compass, and more often than not, even share most of the same likes and dislikes. In a nutshell, it’s called having friends! Whilst it’s quite healthy to want to have a circle of friends who share in our core values, it becomes quite a different scenario when we are never confronted with any opinions that differ from our own.

Protection from opposing worldviews isn’t really protection at all. It only serves to draw our circles even smaller than what they already are. Absolutely no personal growth will take place for as long as we are never confronted by a truth that differs from our own.  Social psychology plays a powerful role in our lives and it shapes how we think, how we respond to certain situations and ultimately, how we act.

This is because the way we perceive ourselves in relation to the rest of the world, plays in important role in what we choose, what we believe and even how we behave. What’s more, what others think and how they respond to us, based on their opinion of us, has an impact on how we view ourselves.

Narrowing Mindsets

This is exactly where the filter bubble comes into play. Filter bubbles are created by algorithms employed by social media sites like Facebook and are used in order to decide what information to show you. It can be argued that the idea behind these filters are perfectly innocent to start with, and even a necessary evil. The idea is to keep you engaged by filtering out certain information based on your social media tendencies.

It’s all good and well when considering the fact that social media sites like Facebook are only in a position to offer a free service due to the fact that marketing pays for the privilege, but it does have the potential to become psychologically quite damaging when we are never confronted by anything that challenges our views. Fortunately, there are plenty of areas on the Internet that are not polarized, and a casino won’t care about your political beliefs, and neither will most movie streaming services!

My News

The real problem lies in the fact that we do not use social media exclusively to shop for products and services. In fact, studies show that instead, we use social media to do life. It’s quite sobering when considering that statistics show that up to 62% of Americans say that they get their daily news fix from sites like Facebook on a regular basis. Paid news sites are part of the new digital way in which we do life, and the era of the printed newspaper is fast approaching an end. The result is that we read the news online. Often, we follow news links that we find on social media. But consider now the impact that filter bubbles have on the way that we perceive the world, if the only news that we ever get to read is news that fits in with how we view the world already.

What this dynamic ends up creating is a worldview that is completely skewed and warped and even at times, given to bias and prejudice. Potentially, this ends in up in a situation where some of us will only ever learn of the good news and others will only ever be confronted with everything that is wrong with the world.

The danger is that these filters ultimately end up influencing even the decisions that we make in real, everyday life, because our views of the world have been swayed in a direction by something that was initially intended to only have an impact on our spending habits.

The Antidote

Software developers and other parties interested in breaking free from filter bubbles have come up with a number of possible solutions, including apps that suggest alternatives as soon as the software recognises the fact that a user is continuously gravitating towards a certain type of news site or opinion site. The onus is also on the user to seek out alternatives and to look further afield than the sites they usually search, in order to broaden their horizons and pop that bubble.

Additionally, you can seek out new friends, expand you social circle and your worldviews, and you can learn how to become comfortable with opinions that may differ to your own, but that you can reconcile with being valid, while still keeping your core values intact.

The idea is to create more balance, and there is no time for this that is better than the present.

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