Undertow Media PR Agency Auckland

The Filter Bubble and fake news; intrinsically tied and important to understand

Undertow Media demystifies The Filter Bubble and how it affects your understanding of the world around you

With the explosion of online content growing exponentially, and with the sheer volume of advertisers trying to positively engage with consumers; platforms such as Facebook needed a solution to their content conundrum.

How could they cut through the seemingly unlimited number of posts, photos and videos flowing through a user’s feed, to instead supply a cohesive, relevant stream of content that the user would find important, engaging, useful and entertaining? How could Facebook and other search related platforms more thoroughly ensure a positive user experience, and therefore repeat visits?

Answer: They would create a bubble of positively geared content to surround and amuse the user constantly.

The term ‘filter bubble’ is a relatively new one, (coined by internet activist Eli Pariser in his eponymous book), and has been used to describe the raft of pre-curated content that appears on a user’s feed.

But how does this bubble exist?

The short answer is algorithms. Often without even noticing it, every single action you take on social media is tracked, every single post, photo and page you “like” is logged and if your location services are turned on, even the places you visit are noted. All of this data is then used by the likes of Facebook and Google Personalized Search to curate the content it serves back to you, to ensure that every time you use its service you are left feeling engaged, happy and satisfied thus ensuring you return to use their service again.

That sounds great right, and a really smart approach – but it also means you are destined to stay in your own ideological bubble.

So what about the flip side of this and why should we care?

As noted by Eli Pariser, “If they are aggregating an enormous percentage of the world’s attention, and building systems that decide where it is spent, with that naturally comes responsibility. It’s to make sure that if people come to Facebook to find news, that they do find the truth”.

One of the main problems with this filter bubble is that a user very rarely experiences anything new or is challenged by something that they don’t like, which naturally discourages discourse and debate over pertinent social, political and cultural issues.

It’s not something visibly noticeable, but how often do you find yourself, on Facebook specifically, wanting to ‘dislike’ something? It so rarely happens that Facebook doesn’t even give you the option!

The filter bubble has, arguably, helped the rise and rise of what is now known as ’fake news’. Fake news isn’t new (historians believe propaganda, its close and more well-known relative, first began around 500BC) but with so many consumers using social media as one of their news delivery services (plus huge advertising revenue coming from the number of clicks and webpage visits), it has made the spread of fake news rampant.

When a fake news article or story is engaged with by our friends, or pages we like, this piece of content is served to us with their endorsement, then combined with catchy, click-bait style headlines to pull you in.

Combine those tactics with our penchant for skim-reading, taste for entertainment-angled content pockets (articles, memes, short-form videos etc) and our ever-dwindling attention span, we create for ourselves through our own and our friends’ liking and commenting, the perfect content bubble. All of this ensures that every day we are being surrounded by content that favours our political and cultural alignments and preferences.

If the last decade was known as ‘the age of information’, then we are arguably in ‘the age of misinformation’.

The problem is that the bubble can lead us to believe in fallacies. If you happen to be anti-Trump for instance, then most likely, all you will see is anti-Trump content, leading you (understandably) to assume that ‘everyone’ is anti-Trump. When, as in this case, the polls told a very different story.

Being wrapped in this most-appealing content bubble can lead us all, if we’re unaware of what is actually going on, to being uninformed and as a result inactive and apathetic; the results of which can be disastrous.

The Filter Bubble however is not some digi-monster to be afraid of, more it is something to be conscious of. Learn how it affects the information you are being fed and make it your goal to stay informed beyond social media.

So here are some handy UM tips for finding your way out of The Filter Bubble:

  • Change your news feed from “most popular stories” to “most recent stories”
  • Take any “news” you read on social media with a grain of salt and if in doubt do your research and head along to reputable news sites for some further reporting
  • Read multiple news sites to ensure you are gaining multiple and varied takes on the subject – and not just a one-sided view
  • Report known fake news sites as fake news – Facebook recently added this option and it helps us all!
  • And remember, don’t believe everything you read on social media!