It seems like we’ve been talking about this for decades now, but it’s been less than 10 years since the term “filter bubble” was coined to describe the way social media amplifies our personal beliefs and filters out what doesn’t compute. (If you haven’t watched Eli Pariser’s TEDTalk on this, do so. It’s worth the time.)
The idea came into sharp focus for me a few years later, as the growing crisis of mistrust in our media created echo chambers on social media and in our daily conversations.
Today America stands on the precipice, as people of differing political beliefs consume radically different “facts” and come to wildly different opinions.
As Rani Molla writes in Recode, filter bubbles are absolutely part of the problem … and social media has done nothing to fix it. (They’ve had 10 years; they’ve failed.)
“Filter bubbles are undeniably part of the problem, but their causes, consequences, and solutions seem less clear than they used to be,” Molla writes. “Part of the issue is it’s often difficult to understand which comes first: a polarized situation or the social media that aggravates that situation. Rather, it’s become a self-reinforcing system.”
The system is really an endless loop, as described by Pariser in a recent interview with Recode.
“The inputs are also the outputs,” Pariser said, describing how our differences are magnified online. “Where I live and who my friends are and what media I consume all shape what I see, which then shapes decisions I make about what media I consume and where to live and who to be friends with.”
This plays out in dangerous ways — in animosity, anger and fear of people who are not like us, who don’t think exactly the way we do. This animosity against “them” has replaced the patriotic feeling of warmth toward one’s own political party, and it’s been steadily getting worse since the 1990s.
All of this is fueled on the platforms we use to get our information, according to Eli Finkel, co-author of a new research paper from Science.
“There’s little doubt in my mind that the way our media ecosystem works is enflaming political sectarianism,” Finkel told Recode. “Social media is not focused on making the world a better place; it’s primarily focused on engagement, so it listens to us and gives us what we want.”
Please let that sink in, folks:
Social media doesn’t care about making the world a better place; it cares about keeping you engaged, so it listens to you and gives you what you want.
Want to truly understand the issues facing this country and the world? Look to traditional news organizations and in particular print news — not social media — for your information.
“Even as Americans who primarily get their political news on social media are less likely to follow most news topics and be aware of specific events in the news, people in this group are as aware — or sometimes more aware — of several unproven claims and fringe theories related to the COVID-19 outbreak,” notes this post in Journalism.org.
The takeaway is clear — if you want to be a better-informed person and avoid the filter bubble echo chamber effect that can lead you away from facts, get off Facebook, Twitter and the rest, and pick up a newspaper. Traditional news organizations, while they do tend to have some political leanings, are still the best sources for comprehensive and accurate reporting.