Filter bubble?  Commercial digital platforms are the original sin.

Nowadays, social media and Internet are often involved in all kind of scandals. You may have heard that we are manipulated by those and that they have pernicious effect. All that press is often accompanied with peculiar slang words like “filter bubble” and “echo chamber”. In order to better understand the public debate around those points, let me explain how those concepts could apply in real life.

So first and foremost, what are filter bubbles? It is a term used to describe an effect that happens on the web and especially social media. But what is that effect?

Think of a TV that can remember your favorite shows. The TV eventually learns whether you prefer reality television or football. Let’s imagine that you enjoy cooking shows a lot. The television gradually displays only stations that offer cooking-related programming. You will need to look specifically for a football game if you want to watch one. Even if some programs are not particularly dependable in their instruction, you can learn more about cooking as a result and your enthusiasm in cooking may increase. However, you will also lose out on knowledge about other topics. It’s possible that you have no interest in those topics or that you have grown interested in them.  However,you are isolated from the rest of the world aside from your current interests. You must make an effort to leave your comfortable TV ideals if you wish to open up to the world. An actual filter bubble exists. The television only recommends stations and programs that it thinks you’ll like. 

“File:Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble – Flickr – Knight Foundation (1).jpg” by Knight Foundation is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On the internet, however, it involves more than just information filtering. You participate in a social network and encounter “echo chambers” when using the internet. It defines a circumstance in which your views and ideas are strengthened since you only get supportive responses to your opinions. You are not just constantly exposed to the same topics, but this exposure may also mold and strengthen your opinions. I distinguish between two primary echoes chamber phenomena. Let’s start with something that everyone has experienced: gossiping. Consider that you dislike Mr. X. His actions seem to you to be somewhat impolite. You begin discussing something with your pal. Don’t you think that Mister X seems a little off? You begin modestly.But then your friend agrees with you and adds to it. “Yes, his behaviour is really weird”. Then you dare being more virulent in your words. And you end up shaming and describing his behaviour together and reinforcing each other arguments on every detail. What was a small feeling of dislike in the beginning becomes a real hatred or disgust. But maybe if your friend had a different opinion than you, it would have only remained a small feeling inside you. That is the reinforcing echo effect. In echo chambers, you are sure to meet people that share the same views. Then, there is a second phenomenon I want to explain in echo chambers. You are exposed to repetitive opinions or facts. This repetitive exposition can actually shape your opinion. Let me explain that situation based on an example. You have certainly already heard a new song that you did not like at all at the radio. Unfortunately, the radio keeps airing that song every day. One day you could even start the song by saying to yourself, “Oh yeah, I know this one, that is cool,” and you might even catch yourself singing it. The behavior is extremely similar in echo chambers. You become used to things you formerly disliked or may have even found shocking. Even more, you could develop an appreciation for it as a result of the neighborhood around it or just by being around it every day.  Take an example from the political field. The most classic one is the extreme opposition between supporters of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  Before every U.S. election, they often hold demonstrations and engage in extreme insults.  Among them, the recommendation algorithm can be said to be the initiator. Voters trapped in the echo chamber can only be exposed to information that is consistent with their own political views and that contradicts the political views of the opposing party, which leads to the above situation.

“ninot making fun of Internet addiction. Ninot exposition.” by Marc Sardon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

In addition, a very intuitive consequence of the recommendation algorithm is that the audience network becomes a mystery. Since the recommendation algorithm is completely designed to fit the user’s preferences, users will spend as much time as possible on relevant media platforms.  And this has formed a new closed loop, because the more time users spend on media platforms, the more accurately their preferences will be inferred, leading to users becoming more addicted.

“Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey – Icons” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Group Members :

Jianming Chen

Runze Lin

Sang Qile Tang

Yucheng Zhao

Zixi Liu