Filter Bubbles: What They Are & Why You Need To Know About Them

by Oct 19, 2017

It’s not news that filter bubbles exist – we’re here to tell you little bit more about them.

As you browse Twitter and Facebook, do you ever wonder why you tend to see the same type of content popping up all the time? And when you’re browsing the internet you find items/topics you’ve previously expressed an interest in showing up left right and centre? It’s not news that filter bubbles exist and by now you should not be surprised by the power that these such bubbles have on programme advertising. What is news is how these algorithms have influenced world events such as Brexit and the Trump election campaign. I’m not going to go into detail about the huge global impact of these decisions (I’m no politician), but what I will say is that maybe, just maybe, if the world was a little more savvy on how to burst their filter bubbles then we may have been open to other views and perspectives and as a consequence may have had a role in potentially changing these outcomes.

So on that note… what the hell is a ‘filter bubble’? Wikipedia sum it up beautifully:
“Filter bubbles result from personalised searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user (such as location, past click-behaviour and search history). As a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles. The choices made by these algorithms are not transparent. Prime examples include Google Personalised Search results and Facebook’s personalised news-stream.”

Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter work in a similar fashion to Google. Like Google, Facebook uses past behaviour as a guide to what to show you. If you have viewed, liked, reacted to and clicked on certain content, Facebook will prioritise it in the future. You cannot escape this filter bubble by not liking or clicking on things, it’s enough to just view it. Twitter does not personalise results as aggressively as Facebook, but both Facebook and Twitter use an additional, more advanced filter bubble as the user also decides who to follow and view content from, allowing them to have a more advanced content management on top of the standard filter. Many people enjoy living in their bubble – tech companies have created these bubbles with the belief that it will improve consumer experiences and to a degree it does. I personally enjoy scrolling through Facebook and seeing hilarious animal gifs (which evidently I have liked a lot in the past), but it’s not until I think about a long lost friend and click on their profile that I realise I’ve missed every single important event in their life because their content didn’t quite make it into my bubble. Part of me misses the days when you logged onto social media and just saw the latest status update, no matter who it was from – as long as you were friends with them you were likely to see their posts.

Moving away from nostalgia, it’s not all doom and gloom. In recent months Spotify has done something quite clever and I for one am a huge fan. To paint a picture, it’s Monday morning, you’re at your desk drinking coffee and it’s raining cats and dogs outside. You need a little pick me up since you’re now fully immune to coffee (aren’t we all now?!), it’s just become part of your daily routine. You log onto Spotify and see a playlist called “Discover Weekly” – what plays through your headphones sounds familiar, you like the beat, but you don’t recognise the artist and you certainly haven’t heard that song before. It’s new and uplifting and before you know it you’ve found 5 new artists to follow that you never knew existed. That’s because the clever people of Spotify have created algorithms based on what you listen to you meaning they can create tailored discover playlists just for you. Pretty clever hey? Another great example is when I was planning my wedding, Spotify could see that I was building playlists like “first dance inspiration” and tweaked my Discovery List to include great potentials for our first dance. As with all great things there has to be a down side – this does mean that in order to find music outside of your bubble you need to look hard. You need to search high and low, specifically for new artists and genres, but if this is the downside, to me it’s no big deal.

If, like many, you want to pop your filter bubble then there are lots of ways to do so, although I would never be fully convinced about how long you can actually stay “out” of one bubble before unknowingly rapidly creating a new one! Simple tricks like clearing your cookies and exploring with different search engines and browsers will help. When it comes to social media a few anti-bubble experts have advised creating new social media profiles, liking and reacting to different types of content just to obtain different perspectives. In my opinion if you really want to pop your online bubble you need to get offline – you can’t beat a good old piece of print to do this. Newspapers and magazines exist to cater for all the different viewpoints without being targeted. Collect a few different papers on a Sunday and broaden your view outside of your bubble! In summary, there’s no simple solution to escaping filter bubbles, but do we really want to anyway? You decide.


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About Vanessa Toby

Vanessa is a keen traveller with no sense of direction. She has an insatiable love of fashion and a spare room full of shoes she has hoarded over the years. If Vanessa isn’t taking over the New Business world at work, you will find her trying out your new favourite exercise class. As a strong believer in the importance of a healthy work-life balance you will find her documenting mind and body advice and top tips.