Internet filtering is turning out to be a hot-button issue. The concern is that many online entities are filtering out important content and only feeding users “information junk food.”
The content users receive through Facebook is inherently heavily filtered. (Moreover, Facebook itself has taken the liberty to further filter incoming links from feeds based on what links users clicked on in the past.)
So is the content users receive from those they follow on Twitter. And so is the content users receive from the websites they visit (e.g. Drudge Report for conservatives and Huffington Post for liberals). Even shopping websites like Amazon.com do it.
The surprise is Google, too, filters content based on the data they have on users. The data used include demographics, search history, and click history, according to dontbubble.us.
In a talk at TED, Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org shared the following experiment he conducted. He asked a couple of his friends to Google “Egypt.”
One friend’s first page showed links to the Egypt protests. Another got links to tourism in Egypt, the Egypt Daily News, and the CIA World Factbook on Egypt.
“The Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see,” said Pariser.
He fears that because so much of the filtering is based on what people immediately click on, they will eventually be surrounded with “information junk food” like entertaining, sensational, and largely frivolous content.
Moreover, people could be surrounded with highly one-sided information (i.e. conservatives getting only conservative-slanting news and liberals getting only liberal-slanting news).
Pariser said a balanced information diet includes content that are important, uncomfortable, challenging, and show opposing viewpoints. He thinks Internet platforms like search engines, as the modern digital information gatekeepers, have a duty to democratic society to provide balanced and important information.
One company trying to cash in on this filter bubble problem is DuckDuckGo.com, an alternative search engine that doesn’t filter information and doesn’t keep data on its users.
“We offer you an alternative: a search engine that breaks you out of your Filter Bubble by default,” stated dontbubble.us, a website DuckDuckGo.com set up.