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La Cañada High School

Opinion: The ‘filter bubble’ effect damages the way users consume media online

In today’s polarized political and social environment, 72% of the public uses some form of social media, according to the Pew Research Center, whether it be Instagram or Twitter.

With the rise of technology giants, this percentage is only growing. Never has it been easier to find news articles that peak your interests or discover a shocking statistic that pops up in your news feed.

This ease, though, may come at grave consequences for the future of our country and our country’s unity. Though having articles tailored to your interests may seem appealing on the outside, a closer look at what this really entails proves otherwise.

Social media platforms like Google and Facebook place logarithms and formulas into their sites to track what each consumer likes and dislikes, which garners the most clicks for said consumer, and how long they spend on each page/article.

With this information, these companies are searching their databases to only present you with the news and information they think you want to see. The problem arises when what we want to see isn’t quite capturing the full picture or the full truth.

“American political discourse in 2016 seemed to be running on two self-contained, never-overlapping sets of information,” John Benton, the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote in 2016. “It took the Venn diagram finally meeting at the ballot box to make it clear how separate the two solitudes really are.”

These filter bubbles are causing Americans to receive completely different sets of media without their consent.

For example, if I were to consistently like my liberal friends’ Facebook updates more than those of my conservative friends, I would slowly begin to stop seeing any mention of those conservative updates.

Facebook is one of the main perpetrators of this effect because (being the most common social media app for usage and news) they have a large effect on their consumers, and have zero restrictions on the amount of fake news and filter bubbles they either knowingly or unknowingly create.

Because the internet is a fairly new innovation, no real regulations are in place to combat this effect.

Before the internet, consumers had the choice to decide which newspaper publication they wanted to read and could see all of the options laid out in front of them. Filter bubbles are making this impossible and stripping us of our right to choose the information we want to know.

The big question is what do we as consumers and truth-seekers alike do about this pressing issue?

Unfortunately, not much can be done on a macro scale due to the pride that we take in our freedom of speech and press, but there are steps that can be taken on a micro scale.

Large, uneducated masses will click on a headline that they think is interesting, and most of the time the “interesting” headline is fake news. Don’t be a member of the masses.

Instead, try to judge an article’s merit before sharing and allowing it to spread like wildfire. Maybe try reading a company’s terms and conditions on privacy and security (you already check the box that you do, so why not give it an actual try?).

Discuss, debate, and empathize with someone who may not politically agree with you.

Ask questions. Do your own research. And always be driven to find the truth. Get out of your bubble.