In a digital age, we have become an increasingly active audience. No longer are we susceptible to the media’s hypodermic needle and forced to adhere to a one-to-many form of communication.
No, we now have access to all the information in the world with a simple tap, click and search. Or is that just what they want us to think?
In a world where 7 in 10 Twitter users now get their news from the social media platform itself, original forms of news production such as broadcast and print media are quickly becoming outdated. While many may view this shift into a digital future as a way to take back control over what they consume, experts suggest that new social media algorithms do just the opposite.
Read on as we delve into the future of ‘The Filter Bubble’ and what it could mean for the future of news consumption and global communication as we pick apart how the online world can shape our opinions.
Stepping Into Social The Social Media Age
Social media adoption is quickly on the rise. On the back of Covid-19’s digital shift, 3.96 billion people use at least one form of social media in 2022, 1.1 billion more than the number of users in 2017.
(Image Source: Oberlo)
With an average yearly growth rate of 6.7%, social media adoption is quickly climbing, especially amongst younger Gen Z and Millenial generations.
As new technology continues to revolutionise the online experience, creating immersive virtual environments for consumers to connect and interact with, it’s no wonder that the digital demographics of today believe that they have the upper hand. Unlike traditional forms of broadcast and print media, social media platforms enable users to both consume and create content, promoting the ideology that they are in control of what they choose to like, follow and re-post.
The question is, just how much control does the consumer have? As we refresh our Twitter feeds and visit our Instagram Explore page, are algorithmic recommendations fed to us for our benefit or are we falling deep into a filter bubble?
What Is A Filter Bubble?
So what is a filter bubble? Defined by Technopedia as “the intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption,” a filter bubble takes away the person’s control of the information they consume.
While new AI-powered tools contribute to the future of a transparency economy where both consumers and website owners have access to click behaviours, browsing histories and user locations, these very factors can cause algorithms to make assumptions on what the user ‘wants’ to consume and what content they will see first in the future.
As our social feeds become littered with what the algorithm thinks we want to see, we can quickly fall into a filter bubble, that prevents consumers from engaging with contradicting viewpoints and new forms of information outside of our niches.
As we continue to be saturated by an abundance of filtered information, it’s no surprise that social media can influence our opinions.
In fact, Laura Burbach, author of Opinion Formation on the Internet: The Influence of Personality, Network Structure, and Content on Sharing Messages Online, suggests that social media consumption continues to play a vital role in the development of our societal, moral and political opinions and can be a hindrance to the future of democracy.
“Social networks play a powerful role and not only influence the formation of the opinion of individuals but can also play a decisive role in political situations and decisions” She comments. “In the past, for example, the number of voices that view social networks as something negative has increased due to the fact that political opinions have been deliberately influenced and political results manipulated.”
Considering that these personalised filters can act as an invisible form of digital propaganda, it’s no surprise that they have had such an impact on the outcome of large democratic events such as Brexit and the US election.
Who Is In Control?
So who is in control here? Eli Pariser, the author of The Filter Bubble, suggests that it is the social media giants themselves that provide the illusion that we control, our unique experiences online.
“What’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do,” He claims in his viral TED Talk. But the thing is that you don’t decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out.”
Founder of Digital Citizen Academy, Lisa Strohman suggests that “The algorithms are purposefully complicated to ensure the average person doesn’t figure them out.”
This allows social media giants to gather data from consumer behaviour and manipulate their consumer’s information feeds for a number of reasons. From advertising to their own political agendas and values, it’s clear that the institution is in control.
Building a Reinforcement Bubble
The problem is, we can only opt-out of filter bubbles, they are not something we consent to. However, if you’re interested in creating your own reinforcement shield, we have you covered, with some simple steps to improve your digital security.
Start Engaging With Conflicting Opinions: Engaging with a variety of different thought processes and ideologies can open up your social feed and allow for a more balanced consumption. While confusing the algorithm, this may also open you up to your own political and behavioural biases that have been influenced by previous social media interactions.
Adjust Your Filters: It’s important to start blocking browser cookies and downloading ad-blocking software if you want your search information to remain untracked. The less data received, the less personalised your algorithmic filter bubble will be.
Engage With Sites That Provide A Wide Range Of Perspectives: It’s time to stop getting your news from your personalised Twitter feed and start engaging with numerous publications that offer a wide perspective on important issues.