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Evaluating Websites and Information: Filter Bubble

General information on website evaluation, the filter bubble, and fake news.

Filter Bubble

Be Aware Of Your "Filter Bubble"

You are living in a "Filter Bubble" and you probably do not know it!! With the creation of the Internet and the subsequent development of search engines (Google, Bing, etc...) algorithms have been developed that help customize and personalize your search results so that the information you receive is tailored to you (or what they think you may like). Based on your previous search results, websites you have visited, your geographic location, the browser and computer you use, the search engines try to set up a profile of your "preferences" to determine the results you will see in a search. So if you and a friend do the exact same search on Google using the exact search terms and word order, you will probably have different search results based on the personalized algorithms that the search engine has developed for you!Filter Bubble Image

Websites on the Internet like Amazon, Netflix and Facebook (to name a few) also use similar algorithms to do such things as customize search results, control what shows up in your news feed, make recommendations for movies to watch and recommend/predict things you may want to purchase. The business strategy for websites like these are simple: 'the more personally relevant their information offerings are, the more ads they can sell, and the more likely you are to buy the products they are offering. Together these prediction engines create a unique universe of information for each of us called the filter bubble which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information.' (from the book The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser).

One of the criticisms of the filter bubble is that based on the "profile" that the search engines and websites have developed you may not even see the information you really want. You only see the websites that contain the information/ideas that the search engine wants you to see. This can limit our perspectives, keep us from new, different or challenging ideas and opinions, and can lead us to be less intellectually engaged. Below is a great Ted Talk from Eli Pariser (about 8 minutes long) where he discusses the concept of Filter Bubbles (he also wrote the book 'The Filter Bubble' in 2011).

 

Eli Pariser's TED Talk on Filter Bubbles

 

The bottom line on filter bubbles is to be aware that you probably exist in one in your online/Internet life. Try to go outside your filter bubble once in a while. Try to look at new websites/news sources that are not your regular resources. When you are doing research it is important that you find the best sources, not just the ones that the search engine thinks that you will like. The library databases that we have previously looked at are not affected by the filter bubble so they are a great way to find sources too when doing research. Other things you can do to alter your filter bubble and affect the outcomes of recommendation/prediction results are:

  • Clean out your browser cache/history and tracking cookies
  • Use private browsing option on your browser
  • Do not be signed into your Google account when you search
  • Try a search engine like Duck Duck Go that does not track you or personalize results
  • Use ad blocking tools in your browser

For further information (if interested) I recommend the following resources:

The Filter Bubble (book) by Eli Pariser (available from the MPC Library)
Are We Stuck in Filter Bubbles? Here are Five Potential Paths Out 
How to Burst the "Filter Bubble" that Protects Us from Opposing Views  
Bubble Trouble: Is Web Personalization Turning Us Into Solipsistic Twits?