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Day 14

Popping Your Filter Bubble

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(Technologies such as social media) lets you go off with like-minded people, so you're not mixing and sharing and understanding other points of view ... It's super important. It's turned out to be more of a problem than I, or many others, would have expected.

– Bill Gates

No two people share the exact vision of reality – our varied life experiences, education and information consumption builds a unique perspective of the world in our minds.

Our screens are a portal to the wider world. They show us what is happening and what has happened. Where we cast our attention determines our mental model of the universe. And the highly personalised web means the world can look very different for two people.

The worldview shown by social media is constructed in two ways…

  1. By choosing who to follow
  2. By algorithms choosing which information to show you based on what it thinks is interesting to you (in order to increase screen time)

For example, think about the feed of a conservative pro-gun enthusiast. They follow people who are interested in the same issues (promoting civilian carry of weapons), avoiding people who are against their issues (promoting weapon bans). Their feed will show them information supporting their worldview (guns are good) and will filter information providing an alternative voice (guns are bad).

This phenomenon is called the filter bubble. And it’s dangerous.

If everything a person sees is in alignment with their views, a person will establish a distorted sense of the importance of an issue and volume of people that share their worldview. Giving them a profound sense of “I know what’s right”.

And yet more worryingly, the filter bubble affects what content people don’t see. The filter bubble takes away opportunity for debate preventing a person’s worldview being challenged.

Your filter bubble exists whether you like it or not. Whilst we can’t control what the algorithms show us, we can seek our new content and ideas.

Strategies

Follow the alternative but not the outrageous

If you find everyone in your feeds are posting and sharing similar content then it’s time to find some alternative voices sharing ideas and content contradicting those homogenous perspectives. Beware those taking an extremely contrarian stance on issues and those seeking in invoke reactions.

Unfollow and unsubscribe

Are you getting a lot of similar content coming into your feeds? Perhaps it’s time for a clear out.

If you’re feeling particularly brave, unfollow everyone on all your accounts. It’s an extreme option but you’ll be able to reset and rebuild your filter bubble.

Seek out new ideas and content

The filter bubble is cozy, safe and feel good. It pats us on the back and says “what a smart cookie you are”. If you’re regularly consuming media that’s making you feel uncomfortable, intellectually speaking, you’re on the right track. We stop learning when our ideas aren’t being challenged. Take a note of the common themes being shown in your feeds and then search for the opposite. E.g. If you’re feed is saying marijuana should be legalised, search for “marijuana should not be legalised” to learn the opposing views.

Read balanced news sites

If you like to stay up-to-date with the news, frequent news publications that provide a wide range of perspectives. The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, BBC, The Economist are examples of balanced or fact driven news sources.

Use incognito occasionally to understand what default is

Social media sites are highly personalised but by accessing them in your browser’s Incognito mode (also known as private browsing mode) will give you a non-personalised view of the website. From this you’ll be able to evaluate how much content is personalised to you. It’s also a good idea to use Incognito mode regularly as a way to prevent social media gathering information about you.

Note that this will only work for websites that are accessible without a user account. Youtube will work but Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram all require user accounts to see the content.

Further reading

Author

Fraser Deans

Today's article was written by Fraser Deans. Fraser is a Digital Product Designer and founder of The Wholesome Technology Company, focused on practicing and spreading ideas for living well with technology.

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