In the era of short videos, data algorithms play a crucial role in tailoring content delivery to diverse groups of individuals. Taking the short video era as an example, different short videos will be delivered to people with different preferences. The crowds can be of different ages, genders, races, nationalities, regions, circles, and so on. However, the emergence of algorithms will aggravate the formation of cocoons, and once the information input is simple, the dimension of view of things will become simple, and thinking will be narrow. After repeated and deepened, the environment will solidify and eventually appear “echo chamber ”. (He et al., 2023)
A revealing incident shared by a netizen from China underscores the impact of these information cocoons. While watching the same short video depicting a quarrel between a man and a woman, the netizen observed distinctly different commentaries on his phone compared to his wife’s. His comment section is all from the male point of view. On the contrary, the comment section on his wife’s phone is all about speaking out for women from females’ perspective. This Douyin video has attracted wide attention and discussion among Chinese netizens regarding how the “information cocoons” divide and affect people’s lives.
The pervasive influence of internet algorithms in shaping personalized content delivery, evident in the rise of filter bubbles and information cocoons, often overlooks the marginalized needs of specific groups, particularly the older adults. While algorithms aim to cater to individual preferences, they inadvertently contribute to the formation of echo chambers that reinforce stereotypes and hinder a comprehensive understanding of diverse perspectives. This article aims to introduce internet algorithms, filter bubbles and information cocoons, and unpack the neglected needs of middle-aged and elderly groups in the digital era.
Internet Algorithms, Information Cocoons and Filter Bubbles
“Information Cocoons”, which was proposed first by Keith Sunstein. Sunstein claims that information cocoons create an atmosphere in which people only meet voices that convey similar beliefs and ideas to their own. (He et al., 2023). Compared with China, people in English-speaking countries more often use the word “filter bubbles” related to “information cocoons”.
The concept of “Filter Bubbles,” introduced by internet activist Eli Pariser in 2010, explores the impact of algorithms on online news consumption. Pariser argues that these algorithms, designed to filter news based on user preferences, inadvertently trap individuals in personalized information bubbles, restricting exposure to diverse perspectives (Street, 2012). Formally, “Filter Bubbles” are defined as the “personal ecosystem of information” shaped by these algorithms (Dish, 2010). The discourse on algorithmic filtering, particularly in the context of filter bubbles, primarily exists within the communication domain (Latzer & Just, 2020). Personalization algorithms, integral to this framework, enable platforms to customize web content based on individual user preferences, a crucial aspect in diverse online spaces from social media to news websites (Milan, 2019). Understanding the implications of filter bubbles is vital for navigating the evolving dynamics of information consumption in the digital era.
For more on the relationship and impact between algorithms and filter bubbles, the following video can provide more information.
The neglected needs of older adults
“Society has been denying the sexuality of older adults for centuries.”(Adams et al., 2003)
The prevailing narrative often portrays older adults as facing with challenges posed by internet technologies. Disproportionately excluded from digital services, these demographic faces barriers such as a reluctance to embrace the internet, financial constraints hindering internet connection or ICT device acquisition, and limited literacy and online skills (Lu et al., 2022). However, the surge in smartphone popularity has notably eased the access of older adults to online entertainment platforms. According to He et al. (2023), we can find older adults, who were once “digital refugees,” have increasingly mastered the usage of short video apps for social engagement, increasing the scope of their Internet use.
Despite the strides made by this dynamic group of adults to challenge prevailing stereotypes, persistent perceptions linger, characterizing older adults as helpless, unhappy, and devoid of sexual agency (Adams et al., 2003). Moreover, the concept of “information cocoons” plays a role in reinforcing these stereotypes. This phenomenon underscores the importance of understanding the nuanced interplay between technology accessibility, societal perceptions, and the things older people do to change the stories about what they can do and how they feel.
After the Chinese middle-aged and elderly top “Xiucai” was banned from trending searches on Weibo, many people still learned about this top elderly anchor with tens of millions of fans for the first time. A blogger Liang Zhou Zz wrote a Weibo post after learning about it. This Weibo describes the author’s in-depth understanding of the elderly’s presence on social media by re-registering a Douyin account. The blogger shares discovered livestreaming and video content of older adults, highlighting society’s inattention to stereotypes and the emotional needs of older adults. The article calls for respect and understanding of the older adults and promotes social care and inclusion, especially with regard to emotional needs. At the same time, the author reveals the problem of gender differences in information cocoons and social media comments, triggering readers to think about interpersonal relationships and social cognition in the digital age.
One comment: “Many Top Internet Students today criticize people for not having independent ideology, criticize older adults for easily believing in scams, criticize middle-aged women for believing that marriage is their destination, and so on. Everyone criticizes as if they are righteous, but not everyone has the opportunity to break through their own information cocoon and see another world. And your criticism is just to give millions of people like you a sense of superiority. In essence, you are arrogant and have no kindness and equality.”
This comment mentioned “Top Internet Students”, “righteous”, “information cocoon” and “arrogant”. The “Top Internet Students” in this context satirize the group of people, especially the younger people who occupy the high position of Internet language to criticize other groups of people different from them. The “righteous” embodies some people inclined to judge others from their own perspective. The commentator pointed out that the information cocoon divides different groups, leading to information blocking, misunderstanding or self-righteousness between groups. For example, some young people often only see the surface of things and may fail to empathize with the older adults about certain things.
Another commentator replied, “There is even an old man in the news who treats a young man who sells health care products as his son. He was deceived because his child did not always take care of him. Now that someone is willing to care for him like his son, the old man can’t stand it.” This real-world example like any of the older women chasing middle-aged “Xiucai” on the Internet, they are pursuing no matter the family affection or romantic love to feed inner deficiency, loneliness, and desire. Also, increased degrees of loneliness and sadness are linked to information cocoon difficulties in the older adults according to research. (He et al., 2023). Moreover, an article titled “Older Adults Are Especially Prone to Social Media Bubbles” (Iyengar, 2019) mentioned older people are much more likely to spread fake news than younger people, and one potential factor to consider is the widespread loneliness of older adults that highlights the importance of understanding the social and psychological factors that influence online behavior.
An article titled “A more inclusive digital environment is what I hope for” (Zhao, 2022) claims that the aim of digital technology created in the first place was to connect us with our experiences, pleasures, and sorrows in a more effective, adaptable, and safe setting. The original intention of the algorithm is also to cater to user needs.
The all-encompassing world is not black and white. For example, the algorithm makes the comment area display comments according to user characteristics, causing people to be in an information cocoon. But in the era of ranking by heat, it is also often the case that the three views are biased by highly praised comments, and the comments with opposite opinions are simply invisible.
Additionally, the popularity of “Xiucai” in the later period is inseparable from young people’s artificial memes. The algorithm pushes it to more and more young people, allowing them to learn about and understand the group of older adults in a young people’s way.
In conclusion, the rise of internet algorithms has given birth to filter bubbles and information cocoons leading to the transmission of personalised material, which may unintentionally isolate people inside echo chambers. Older adults are especially impacted by that. Although these algorithms are designed to cater to user preferences, the result may be the reinforcing of prejudices and a barrier to deep comprehension. It’s important to recognise the complex nature of the digital environment, where algorithms can enhance intergenerational understanding when used successfully, as well as cause divisions. For the rapidly changing digital landscape, finding a balance between personalisation and inclusivity continues to be a pivotal problem.
Adams, M., Oye, J., & Parker, T. (2003). Sexuality of older adults and the Internet: From sex education to cybersex. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 18(3), 405–415. https://doi.org/10.1080/1468199031000153991
Dish, T. D. (2010, October 10). The Filter Bubble. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2010/10/the-filter-bubble/181427/
He, Y., Liu, D., Guo, R., & Guo, S. (2023). Information Cocoons on Short Video Platforms and Its Influence on Depression Among the Elderly: A Moderated Mediation Model. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Volume 16, 2469–2480. https://doi.org/10.2147/prbm.s415832
Iyengar, D. G. (2019, February 21). Older Adults Are Especially Prone to Social Media Bubbles. Scientific American Blog Network. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/older-adults-are-especially-prone-to-social-media-bubbles/
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Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You. In Google Books. Penguin Books Limited. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.5555/2029079
Street, F. (2012, March 15). The Filter Bubble. Farnam Street. https://fs.blog/the-filter-bubble-what-the-internet-is-hiding-from-you/
Zhao, C. (2022, December 5). A more inclusive digital environment is what I hope for | UNICEF China. Www.unicef.cn. https://www.unicef.cn/en/stories/i-hope-a-more-inclusive-digital-environment
Zhou Zz, L. (2023, September 5). [Exploring the Unseen Lives of Elderly Individuals in the Digital Era]. Weibo. https://weibo.com/2661864314/NhREvjeK6#comment