The advancement of society and various sectors has facilitated greater accessibility to vast information and expanded the scope for cognitive exploration. The rise in popularity of social media platforms has significantly transformed how individuals engage in communication, establishing itself as a fundamental aspect of online behaviour. Despite the advancements in communication technology, there remains a need for further improvement in interpersonal communication. Digital technology facilitates the process of information filtering and enables users to disseminate it among individuals with similar interests. Individuals who consistently engage with online information goods, driven by their curiosity and interest, may find themselves confined within a metaphorical “cocoon” akin to that constructed by silkworms. Sunstein introduced the notion of an “information cocoon” to describe the phenomenon wherein individuals are confronted with a substantial volume of information, resulting in limited attention capacity (He et al., 2023). Consequently, individuals exhibit a discerning approach in their engagement, selectively choosing content based on their interests, thereby filtering and selecting information to ensure sustained focus and psychological well-being.
Nevertheless, the persistent focus on homogeneous information over an extended period might give rise to issues such as information narrowing and group polarization (Yuan & Wang, 2022), ultimately creating an information cocoon.
Personal choices determine the information cocoon
The rise of information cocoons is an inevitable outcome primarily driven by individuals’ subjective decisions. Initially, the user is required to engage in the process of carefully examining and evaluating a vast array of information. In the contemporary era of pan-entertainment, individuals’ acquisition of knowledge and information has become fragmented, with a heavy reliance on the instantaneous distribution of Internet media. In recent years, there has been a notable growth and expansion of social media platforms in China. Social applications like WeChat, Little Red Book, and Douyin have experienced rapid and widespread popularity. The ubiquitous Internet utilization enables individuals to get information according to their preferences. Utilizing mobile phones enables individuals to access a vast amount of information conveniently.
Furthermore, due to the Internet’s widespread availability and inclusive nature, it is universally acknowledged that every individual is entitled to access information. Hence, due to the unrestricted accessibility of information, individuals must engage in decision-making processes to prioritize and select among the numerous messages available to the public. Furthermore, due to the limited scope of the public’s information needs, individuals tend to prioritize topics or areas of information that align with their personal preferences and bring them joy, thereby neglecting other sources of information. As a result, their access to information becomes restricted in terms of both breadth and depth (Yuan & Wang, 2022). Hence, the inevitability of information cocoons arises from the worldwide accessibility and openness of the Internet, which enables individuals to acquire information. However, the information demands of the general public are often constrained, resulting in a tendency to prioritize personal preferences.
Furthermore, it is shown that users often possess knowledge that aligns with their subjective perspective. Information acquisition by individuals through the Internet is frequently accompanied by biased decision-making and information processing. This is mainly attributed to the inherent human tendency to prioritize self-interest and interpret information through a subjective lens, resulting in the intuitive dismissal of information that contradicts one’s perceptions. In the context of decision-making, it is observed that individuals tend to exhibit a cognitive bias known as confirmation bias. This bias manifests when individuals actively seek information that aligns with their pre-existing decisions, aiming to obtain validation and support for their chosen course of action.
Conversely, material that contradicts their decision tends to be considered and addressed. Confirmation bias is a prominent and enduring phenomenon that compels individuals to disregard information that contradicts their deeply cherished views. Hence, the subjective assessment of personality plays a crucial role in the emergence of information cocoons, as individuals tend to selectively filter out information that aligns with their self-perception and disregard information that challenges their existing ideas.
Platform personalized content association technology
However, using platform-tailored content push technology plays a significant role in promoting information cocoons. To enhance user engagement and retention, internet companies employ a strategy of tailoring content recommendations based on user preferences. These organizations want to foster a stronger connection between users and their platform by selectively filtering information and suggesting content that aligns with user interests (Farnam Street, 2023). Over time, recommendation algorithms employed by internet firms tend to prioritize content that aligns with the user’s perspectives and values while gradually excluding dissenting viewpoints and individuals who challenge their existing beliefs. This strategic approach is driven by the corporations’ desire to enhance user retention rates and facilitate user disengagement from their applications. Over time, individuals are mostly exposed to content requiring minimal cognitive engagement.
The concept introduced by Zuboff, which involves analyzing and predicting Internet users’ future behaviour to strategically place adverts inside the digital economy to facilitate capital accumulation, is sometimes called “surveillance capitalism.” Surveillance capitalism entails continuously utilizing optimization algorithms to anticipate and manipulate human cognition and behaviour, hence generating revenue and exerting control over the market (Bridie, 2019). As an illustration, the platform can deduce individual preferences by analyzing browsing patterns and effectively providing targeted advertisements. While it is possible that people may not currently purchase the goods, the brand will likely be the first to come to mind when they need comparable products. Hence, the platform’s personalized content delivery technology caters to customers’ specific tastes and facilitates the efficient completion of transactions by pushing correct and relevant content.
The harm of information cocoons to individuals and society-Society
The emergence of information cocoons is an unavoidable consequence of users having to make choices about the vast amount of information available. Users tend to gravitate towards information that aligns with their existing beliefs and preferences, and the utilization of platform-personalized content push technology plays a crucial role in fostering the development of information cocoons. Nevertheless, the presence of information cocoons has a detrimental impact on the relationship between individuals and society. Effective communication plays a crucial role in fostering emotional connections, particularly given the inherently social nature of human beings. In the contemporary era of digital advancements, the communication technology landscape has seen significant transformations, influencing individuals’ lifestyles. Notably, social media platforms have emerged as a prominent means of fulfilling people’s communication requirements to a considerable extent.
Consequently, the decrease in interpersonal interaction within society and the community, along with the phenomenon of information cocooning, results in the erosion of users’ social cohesion, diminishing group dynamics, and confinement of the audience within a self-contained information bubble (He et al., 2023). This could lead to a deficiency in users’ ability to empathize.
The harm of information cocoons to individuals and society-Individuals
For instance, those who share similar experiences tend to exhibit a greater inclination towards adopting alternative perspectives and fostering a sense of unity and sociability among themselves. Furthermore, the presence of information cocoons serves to amplify cognitive biases. To mitigate the cognitive strain from an overwhelming amount of information, individuals frequently opt to employ a filtering mechanism to exclude cognitively biased information, perhaps resulting in an excessive homogenization of the acquired knowledge (Yuan & Wang, 2022).
Furthermore, there is a need for greater comprehensiveness in meeting the information demands of the general public. Often, individuals focus primarily on their preferred areas of interest, resulting in limited attention to other information sources. This selective attention might restrict the extent and depth of their knowledge acquisition. Consequently, individuals often segregate into homogeneous and ideologically aligned communication spaces. Individuals have a heightened inclination to form social connections with others who share similar beliefs and values, a tendency that can reinforce internal group cohesion while potentially diminishing the perceived worth of external groupings (n.d.).
Therefore, the presence of information cocoons has a detrimental impact on the interplay between individuals and society. Utilizing technology diminishes interpersonal interactions and societal engagement, undermining collective efficacy and potentially fostering a dearth of empathy among individuals. Furthermore, the presence of information cocoons amplifies individuals’ cognitive biases, fosters unwarranted self-assurance, and hinders the incorporation of alternative perspectives.
While there is a growing recognition among the Chinese government and individuals about the importance of being exposed to diverse perspectives to foster informed citizens, there still needs to be more effective regulation concerning the information cocoon. It is because even if restrictions are imposed on the audience’s access to information, it is ultimately the conscious choice of the audience in the face of information overload. Furthermore, such restrictions can play a constructive role in reaching societal consensus. However, the limited spread of the government’s voice through the Internet may threaten social stability and national ideological security (Popiel, 2018). For instance, individuals tend to seek information that aligns with their surfing interests. Consequently, people experience a sense of satisfaction when encountering information congruent with their existing knowledge and understanding. Thus, the users themselves, together with the phenomenon of information cocoons, are closely intertwined and mutually influential.
In essence, information cocoons arise when individuals selectively filter and consume information that aligns with their interests over an extended period. Given the inherent limitations of human energy, individuals are compelled to make selective choices amidst the vast expanse of available knowledge. Consequently, individuals tend to be drawn towards material that aligns with their cognitive processes, as this alignment is crucial in attaining a sense of inner contentment. Additionally, algorithms play a crucial role in facilitating the creation of information cocoons that aid in completing transactions, customization of customer preferences, promotion of content, and enhancement of transaction rates with precision. Nevertheless, the audience dedicates a significant amount of time to utilizing the Internet to minimize interpersonal interactions and societal engagement, thus diminishing the collective efficacy and intensifying cognitive biases. While both the Chinese government and individuals are aware of the risks associated with information cocoons, it is essential to note that users actively make deliberate decisions to engage in this behaviour. Therefore, it is imperative to implement efficient regulatory measures.