Filter what you see: does sorting function on digital platforms help encouraging social integration or worsening the gap between online fan culture communities? 

Festival audience crowd is licensed under CC0 1.0 via Pintrest


In contemporary online society, the functions of digital platforms have changed from information searching engines to ‘curated, organized, archived, and moderated’ material combination (Gillespie, 2018, p. 14). Based on user’s preferences, sorting functions were created to enhance the efficiency of information classification and retrieval. For instance, filter function changes posts sequence based on users’ intention; topic and hashtag functions allow people to view filtered information that was labeled with the specific hashtag/topic; the trending function can show people the real-time trending topic directly. With the diversified function, the online communication methods between online users have changed.  

According to the social identity theory, people describe themselves in terms of not only their personal characteristics, but also their social group membership (Behrens & Uhrich, 2019). This makes the community formation becomes inevitable, it also applies to the online society. Fan community have been a necessary consistent of the digital culture, people who share the same interests are gathered to form a rather disclosed community in the completely open online environment. With the adaptation of sorting function, how are the fan communities affected by it? Does the sorting function benefit us more with culture integration or has it made us more isolated from the online world?  

Filtering system makes our online experience more efficient 

When surfing the internet, users can be spread into diverse groups with unique needs. Without the sorting system, information will be displayed with no pattern, making it hard to identify which information is useful. The filtering system creates a catalog for people to retrieve information. When having interest in a topic, the filtering system will guarantee the fastest path to accessing all the related information online. Thus, this can be a helpful tool for people wanting to learn about the culture and assist the integration of single culture. According to Watson (1997), fan communities are generated by common interest, which is the only motivation that draws people together. Having filtering system is a convenience and booster to attract people as it provides more distinguishing features to the identification of the specific community. This explains why the formation of modern online fan communities relies on the filtering system a lot, since it contributes to gathering information related to the community culture and provide the community members with a pure and efficient experience in gaining desired information. 

photo by Dalila Missero and Daniela Treveri Gen, licensed under CC0 1.0, via Centre of Research in the Arts

Topic function: make your fan culture experience more immersive. 

Have you ever used the topic/hashtag function on social media? When discussing a topic online through social media platform, there is often a topic or hashtag space for people to discuss. This function provides us with a secure space to have conversations. This is crucial to modern fan communities because it makes the discussion between each other focused and immersive. In the fan community, hashtag and topic function play essential roles. It guarantees that all the information related to the artist is shared within the topic/hashtag immediately for the fans, or even make its way outside the community for more attention. Hashtags also helps algorithms to further target your potential interest, and create new lists based on the original hashtags people share to others with the same interest. For fan communities, topic/hashtag on social media functions as online archives, it stores all the information about the artist, and it is convenient for fans to access old posts. This not only provides historical data, but also can work as an encyclopedia for others who are interested in knowing about the culture.  

Sorting function creates filter bubble for us 

Although it seems that sorting function has brought us convenience and efficiency in the digital society, it still presents obvious concerns to information access. Filter bubble, coined by Eli Pariser in 2011, is used to describe a situation where we are trapped in what the internet thinks we like and makes other information blocked from us. This phenomenon results from personalized sorting algorithms. These algorithms push information that people may be interested in to ‘enhance the experience’, but it triggers the possibility of cutting down our information resources. As for the fan community, the existence of filter bubbles has a negative influence on culture interaction and communication because it blocks the opportunity for the public to learn about them, obstructing the spread and integration of fan culture. Filter bubbles can lead to further chain reaction called echo chamber reaction, which is created by people’s choices of media source online under the era of personal media (Muhammad Al Atiqi, 2023). People living in the same community often share different opinions over certain events, this may cause violence and conflicts between people in reality. According to Geschke et al. (2018) Due to the social posting and ongoing communal conflict, echo chambers may grow more different and less related. Therefore, social fragmentation and polarization will occur to trigger rapid social reform. 

photo by Blogtrepreneur, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Subjectively and passively isolated from other cultures

Aside from the objective reason that isolate people, being inside filter bubble for a long period of time will lead to thinking inertia which isolate ourselves with outside subjectively. People immerse in the content they are interested in and continue to do so. When selecting information, they will only focus on or believe in. Korean female idol Lisa recently was invited to perform in the Crazy Horse show, since the show was completely confidential to the public, people started to randomly guess and speculate the scene. People tuning in this event tend to find those who share the same view with them instead of trying to see the whole picture. In this situation, various perspectives and speculations regarding this show have gone on the internet. This example has clearly indicated that people are now less motivated to interact with other thoughts, willing to isolate themselves from other groups. This pattern also applies to the fan communities online, fans get deeply involved in one culture and fail to connect themselves with other communities, this pushes the gap between communities larger and each culture more isolated. 

Sorting function is still worthy 

With the problem of filter bubble, people have been working on reducing the effect. Trending function can be counted as one of the methods aimed at dealing with its negativity. The trending function will display the most viewed topic on its sector for all people to view, it will indirectly help boost the rate of culture exposure and improve culture integration. Having filter system on can make sure that your viewable contents are all suitable for you, especially for fans in the fan community, it can avoid people viewing contents from haters. According to Tarleton Gillespie (2018), platforms must, in some way, exercise moderation to protect one user from another or one group from its antagonists to deliver the best side of the internet. Having sorting functions is one of the means to guard users of every community and preserve the integrity of fan communities. 


As I mentioned earlier, sorting function can be further elaborated to filtering system, hashtag/topic function and so on, although it has brought people with double sided effect, it still serves as a useful tool to help culture communication and integration. Sorting function guarantees the information flow, enlarges the possibilities of culture exposure, helping the culture communication and the member interactions between communities.  It has brought efficiency and effectiveness to our online experience and fan community formation. Sorting function has proved to contribute more to cultural integration, with the improvement of regulation, sorting function can be a greater tool for cultural integration and communication. 


‌Behrens, A., & Uhrich, S. (2019). Uniting a sport teams’ global fan community: prototypical behavior of satellite fans enhances local fans’ attitudes and perceptions of groupness. European Sport Management Quarterly, 1–20. 

‌GCF Global. (n.d.). Digital Media Literacy: How Filter Bubbles Isolate You.

‌Geschke, D., Lorenz, J., & Holtz, P. (2018). The triple-filter bubble: Using agent-based modelling to test a meta-theoretical framework for the emergence of filter bubbles and echo chambers. British Journal of Social Psychology58(1), 129–149. 

‌Gillespie , T. (2018). Governance by and through platforms. In The SAGE Handbook of Social Media (pp. 254–278). SAGE Publications, Limited. 

Kong, D. H. (2023, September 29). “BLACKPINK” Lisa’s revealing performance at Crazy Horse show in Paris sparks controversy. Dimsum Daily.‌

‌Muhammad Al Atiqi. (2023). Echo Chamber and Polarization in Social Media. Springer. 

Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. yi, Rosen, D., Colditz, J. B., Radovic, A., & Miller, E. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation among Young Adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine53(1), 1–8. 

Roehl, T. (2015). Use Social Media to Help Clients Practice Sorting and Summarizing. ASHA Leader20(5), online only.‌

Tarleton Gillespie. (2018). Custodians of the internet : platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape soci. New Haven Yale University Press. 

‌Watson, N. (1997). Why We Argue About Virtual Community: A Case Study of the Fan Community. In Virtual Culture : Identity and Communication in Cybersociety (pp. 97–122). SAGE Publications, Limited.

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