Be honest – have you ever clicked on a news article about the latest gossip scandal when you knew it would be much more enlightening to read about the latest events in Afghanistan? You may think to yourself, “I just want a bit of light relief for now, I’ll deal with the troubles of the world tomorrow.” Little did you realise that you might be subjecting yourself to a future of junk food info.
In recent years, there’s been a shift in the way information is shared on the Internet. Sites such as Facebook, The New York Times, and Yahoo! News look at the articles and links you click on the most, and show you more of this kind of material, editing out the things they think you’re not interested in.
What’s more, if two people search for something on the Internet, they might receive a very different results page. This is because search engines look at very different signals (including the kind of computer you’re using, your browser, your location and so on) to personally tailor your search results.
In one way, this is great, as you don’t have to sift through reams of search results which may be completely irrelevant. However, there’s a downside too: the Internet is only showing us what we want to see, not necessarily what we need to see.
Before the Internet, when information was shared in the press and on TV, humans were the ones in charge of choosing what details to share. With the Internet, algorithms are the gate keepers – they filter out certain data, leaving you with your own personal universe of online info. The problem is, they don’t have the embedded ethics that the humans did. So there’s a risk that people could be involuntary switched from a healthy-balanced-info diet to a junk-food-info diet. Which isn’t really a good thing, because we shouldn’t just be shown the information we feel most comfortable with – we should be shown other points of view and things that challenge us, too.
Internet sites needs to be aware of this fact and offer more transparency. People need to see the rules that control their filter bubbles. And they need to have some control over them.
Amy from London, UKTweet