Don’t Believe What You See

Algorithmic feeds control our online experiences, shaping opinions and debates

The algorithm is at the heart of any social media experience. It learns who you talk to the most and then build a personalised experience of content that ‘matters to you’. It is the reason your Twitter feed is no longer chronological and you no longer see updates from certain friends anymore.

Ostensibly implemented as a way to help users navigate the mass of posts on their feeds, such priority protocols have led to the creation of the infamous ‘filter bubble’. Similar material drip-fed to users; viewing one video of a dancing alien will fill your feed with 20 more while burying an important article.

One of the biggest hazards of this process has been the reinforcement of confirmation bias. When people are being closed off from the complete picture, it is harder for them to listen to logical reasoning. Fake news sites that are up to earn a quick buck churn out unverified populist content, which people readily accept.

Is Filter Bubble a serious Problem

Advertisers and third-parties love this, because it allows them to break a complex individual down to a set of pre-defined preferences (Eg. X likes dancing aliens or hates AAP) and target their products. For instance, a production company in 2016 choose to show two trailers of the same movie to people based on the data it had gathered about their ethnicity. Both versions presented radically different versions of the same story – a manipulation of facts.

The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal focused mostly on how data was obtained from unsuspecting users. The fact that the firm used it to construct voter profiles is no less dangerous. Once it had analysed the electorate, targeted messages were sent to sway users.

Those profiles likely helped in the victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit campaigners despite the losing side possessing all the facts. It didn’t matter that immigrants made up most of the UK workforce, or that Trump couldn’t tell the American electorate anything about his policies other than ‘Making America Great Again’. The filter bubble had got them.

While billboards, brochures, TV ads and rallies have been powerful persuasion tools in the past, one always has the ability to change the channel and  make a choice. With the algorithm, social media takes that choice away. The only real way to counter that is to put our phones away and look out into the real world.

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