Having evolved from their frivolous origins, online networks are now being used to mitigate crises, crowdsource journalism, connect multinational enterprises, and countless other uses.
But our over-reliance on these networks often involves a hefty price tag.
Surveys have revealed that an astonishing number of individuals receive their news from social media — by some estimates, over 40% of adults. While this may, on the one hand, be hailed as progress towards an informed society, there is heavy concern about the so-called “echo-chamber” bias.
The majority of individuals acquaint with those who are likeminded, often sharing similar political orientations and similar perspectives of social issues. And thus, by using our Facebook news feed as a source of information, we are — in effect — eliminating a whole host of oppositional voices and counter-arguments which we may receive by picking up a newspaper.
This phenomenon has become so prevalent that its even been given a name: the filter bubble.
Beyond this, search engines such as Google, and social platforms such as Facebook employ algorithms to display some types of content more prominently than others. This is most often based on a user’s previous searches and likes. Hence, if two friends, one avid traveller and one political aficionado, both search the term “Ukraine,” radically different results are likely to emerge. One will be bombarded with deals on urban excavations in Kiev and resorts on the Black Sea. The other will be bombarded with geopolitical analyses about Crimea.
While it may be convenient to receive results which re-enforce one’s interests, there are serious implications to be dealt with. To be completely engrossed within one’s personal “filter bubble” can be a dangerous thing; alienating opposing worldviews and oftentimes jeopardizing one’s ability to approach an issue from multiple, polemical perspectives. Conservatives will never again need to hear liberal opinions, and liberals can disregard their counterparts’ opinions as a thing of the past.
Insofar as this is a concerning trend, some initiatives have been taken to remedy the situation. Among the most notable is the search engine DuckDuckGo. While Google, Yahoo and Bing learn from your searches, tailoring specific results to your interests (hence, eliminating other results), DuckDuckGo gives you a comprehensive and unhampered view of the internet. Not a single search is archived and every person will recieve the same results, ensuring equal access to information.
But escaping your confirmation bias on social media is significantly more difficult. After all, without making friends of differing political orientations, you can’t expect oppositional news to show up on your feed.
The only real solution is diversity your sources. Though The Telegraph and The Independent will often write on the same subjects, their coverage perpetuates wildly different worldviews, the former being conservative and the latter being liberal. Though to truly be free of the new age’s “filter bubble,” hearing your opposition’s opinion is crucial.
On my phone, I have the BBC, Independent, Telegraph, Russia Today, CNN, CBC and Al Jazeera sending me notifications on a daily basis. Perhaps that’s a bit much to go through for a hint of non-bias. But maybe starting with two or three can be a good thing.