In the contemporary age, social networking and digital media have dominated resulting to overwhelming information of both verified and unverified ones. The rise of filter bubbles and misinformation generates significant challenges jeopardizing democratic processes and personal relationships. In this blog post, the emphasis will be magnified on the unverified information as it has a greater impact on society. Being familiar with how both of these terms work will help mitigate the risks in compromising informed decision-making. Such a workaround will also be covered in this discussion.
Filter Bubbles: The Echo Chambers of the Internet
Filter Bubbles is a term made popular by an internet activist Eli Pariser. According to Eli, it refers to information personalized in accordance with one’s digital footprint. It is the ecosystem a user generates based on their very own algorithm, thus, each of us has a unique set of filter bubbles. Moreover, the filter bubbles are constructed from information extracted through browsing history, search queries, and social media interaction across all platforms. Filter bubbles are created with the aim of pleasing us with contents tailored to our existing beliefs, interests, and preferences. Enhancing one’s internet experience by showing them what they like is how the filter bubble context started.
However, filter bubbles have a downside. With the massive, tailored information it tries to introduce to us, the tendency to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs limits us from a diverse perspective and information, that could have been challenged our opinion. This orchestrated scenario leads to what they call an echo chambers where people are exposed only to their own biased information. With limited information, open-mindedness and critical thinking are less being triggered, making it difficult for users to engage in constructive and thoughtful dialogues. In his Ted Talk, Pariser ( warns us the effect of algorithms and the dangers of online filer bubble.
Misinformation: The Viral Epidemic
While filtered bubble is a set of tailored information, Misinformation on the other hand refers to the spread of such misleading information. Although often unintentional, misinformation can still lead to disinformation, which is the deliberate use of unverified information to cause harm to others. In the modern age, misinformation can spread as rapidly as wildfire. The social media platforms are one of the channels to making it happen.
One of the major challenges of misinformation lies in its ability to overpower reliable sources of information, which then can affect the quality of a well-informed society. Such a scenario will persist, people will start to be exposed to conspiracy theories, false claims, and fabricated narratives that will eventually lead them to making decisions based on low quality inaccurate information. On a larger picture, real-world scenarios such as public health crisis and political polarization can be triggered.
In this below article posted by UK Fact Check Politics, a discussion is made online as well as a notification of being aware and mindful of fake news for the public. May it be a large organization, or an influential person, Misinformation has the tendency to influence readers.
The Confluence of Filter Bubbles and Misinformation
Tailored information being amplified and spread without appropriate control creates a perfect storm of challenges.
According to the Open University channel’s video on Filter Bubble and Fake News, “Language is central to the way we understand the world….see world event and understand the big issues.” The internet language construed with misinformation has a significant impact on how the future things will likely unfold.
The perfect storm of challenges is caused by the personalized information bubble that is more likely to be encountered and to be believed false or misleading, as it aligns with our existing beliefs. With this, there is a strong rejection from outside ideas, and more often, we will just shut down other people’s opinion as we believe ours is right. In an interesting interview with Assistant Professor, Brendan Nyhan of Darmouth College, he explained such situation as confirmation and disconfirmation bias, where people are “too accepting of information they want to hear, and too critical of information they don’t want to hear.” The real challenge arises in the matters of fact, where there is already an overwhelming factual evidence, yet people still do not believe in that factual matter because their pre-dispositions are getting in the way.
The Impact on Society
These challenges arising from the combination of filter bubbles and misinformation have an undying impact for society.
Considered to be the natural impact of filter bubble and misinformation, polarization or social divide is inevitable. People are becoming more attached to their beliefs making them less willing to adjust and accept other people’s opinions. With this they tend to not engage to conversations, debate, or arguments that could have been helpful to shed a light to what they believe in, or to validate it the least.
- Erosion of Trust
One of the consequences of spreading misinformation is the negative branding it can impact an organization, such as the media, smaller groups, and of the fellow citizens. If fake information is presented as facts, this will start creating confusion to the audience. Without knowing, they are already developing a difficulty to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.
- Public Health Risks
By far the most serious consequence of spreading inaccurate information is when it costs lives. We have witnessed that during the public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easier to disseminate wrongful information related to preventive measures, medicines, vaccine safety, which then affected people to cancel their vaccine appointments of booster shots. With the echoing unverified information, people are also subjecting to self-medication which bears a separate health risk in the public, especially, when it works with an individual, posted it on social media, and the other readers would think that same medication will work with them as well.
- Election Integrity
For a more specific impact, misinformation can influence the quality of election process and results. The integrity can be compromised by spreading inaccurate narratives against the candidates. We have seen in many different national and local elections how can fake news affect the candidacy, with bias opinions, the battle is far from over.
- Decreased Critical Thinking
On a personal level, the combination of filter bubbles and misinformation challenges the individual’s ability for critical thinking. This is because of the selected information that we are willing to process. When hearing an opinion different to ours, the capacity to engage in a discourse will be lessen. Critical thinking is built through negotiations, brainstorming and collaboration. These three major factors are not present shall we as individuals will shield ourselves from opposing viewpoints.
Charting a course Forward
Despite the challenges surrounding filter bubbles and misinformation, there are still ways to address it. Although it cannot totally eliminate the spreading of misinformation as well as how the algorithm works, we can still work out on how we create our digital footprint and adjust with how we accept and handle information.
- Media Literacy
People can be educated by how they critically evaluate the sources of information. This is helpful to personally assess the quality of information and do fact-check claims, so to avoid spreading of fake news.
There is a hope of eliminating filter bubbles and misinformation, although currently it is through after-the-fact. There are organizations dedicated to debunking and challenging false information and making different channels responsible. We can show support to such organizations through advertising them, donating resources, or introducing them to different small-scale communities.
- Critical Thinking
The ultimate course to move forward and combat the combination of filter bubbles and misinformation, is to help oneself ability to think critically. Such strengthened soft skills will be helpful as well to life in general, since language and information play a critical role in how we understand things.
Darmouth College. (2022). Defining Confirmation Bias. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/defining-confirmation-bias.
Open University. (2018). Filter Bubbles and Fake News. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaolE1blpWk&t=1s.
Ted Talk. (2011). Beware online “filter bubbles.” Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ofWFx525s.
UK Fact Check Politics. (2023, September 29). Elon Musk has recently disbanded the election integrity team at X. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CxyKYNVo2pA/?hl=en