Eli Pariser, the liberal advocate, has written a book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You and gave a talk about it at recent TED conference. Thanks to my friend and colleague Joyce Newman, a leading media and presentation trainer, for bringing it to my attention. Pariser’s basic thesis is that the major players on the Internet — Google, Facebook, Yahoo News and others — are filtering what we see to a much greater extent than we may realize.
Pariser recounted a couple of examples in the video from TED that is below this post. While he is a liberal, he also likes to follow conservatives to see what they have to say. One day he was surprised to learn the conservatives had disappeared from his Facebook feed without Facebook consulting him. Because Facebook’s algorithims had detected that he visited liberal friends more often than conservative friends, they simply edited out the conservatives.
Pariser found Google was doing it, too. He asked friends to search the same word — Egypt — and the results were dramatically different. He concludes — and it’s difficult to disagree — that the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see but not necessarily what we need to see.
That’s how he came to write the Filter Bubble — to show how these content editors (the algorithms) don’t have embedded ethics as they curate the world for us. Pariser believes they must show us other points of view and not just what we’ve searched for. The people writing these codes must take on a sense of civic responsibility so the process is transparent and we can decide what gets through our filters and what does not. I think you’ll find his talk, which is only about 9 minutes long, enlightening — and a little frightening.