Is Your Filter Bubble Stopping You from Seeing Other Points of View?
America is incredibly divided right now, especially when it comes to politics. In the wake of what was arguably the most divisive election in recent decades, many people hold very strong beliefs and opinions about a variety of current events topics.
When you feel strongly about something, it’s natural to seek out like-minded people to discuss things with. But believe it or not, your own beliefs and biases could be being subtly reinforced accidentally. How? Simply through your online reading and browsing habits.
This is called the “filter bubble” effect. Far from being some carefully engineered media conspiracy, it’s really an accidental side effect of the way that search engines and other online resources are designed to show you things they know you like. The “filter bubble” effect can prevent you from being exposed to alternative or opposing points of view. This can potentially reinforce your own biases, prejudices, and assumptions.
The problem with the filter bubble is that it erects accidental barriers between people with different opinions and political views, sequestering everyone further into groups. It prevents you from being exposed to alternative opinions and points of view. For America to unite, it’s essential that we all make an effort to understand other people’s viewpoints that differ from our own. Filter bubbles can make it harder to do that.
Google’s Accidental Filter Bubble
Every time you type something into Google and hit the search button, the results that you’re going to see are personalized for you. Unless you’re using an alternative search engine like DuckDuckGo, or you’re in your browser’s incognito mode, Google has access to your search history and your location. This is why if you search “chinese takeout near me,” you’ll see restaurants close to your geographical location.
The problem is that Google’s algorithms are designed to show you want you want to see. If you tend to click on certain kinds of links, or you favor certain websites and publications, those things may be overrepresented in the results that Google shows you.
Two different people can search for a keyword phrase related to current events, like “climate change,” and get different sets of results. Google isn’t the only place where filter bubbles can arise. Facebook’s personalized news stream, which shows you content that you’re likely to interact with, can also result in a filter bubble effect.
The filter bubble effect arises from only the best intentions: personalizing search results and other online resources for each individual, helping you find the things you’re the most interested in. But its unintended side effect is that it can sequester you away from opposing viewpoints and alternative opinions. This can make it harder to really weigh both sides of the issue, or to understand where people with the opposite opinion are coming from and why they’re making the argument they’re making.
How to Beat Your Filter Bubble
One way to avoid the filter bubble is to use alternative search engines sometimes, or to search Google in incognito mode. DuckDuckGo is a widely recommended privacy-oriented search engine. Because it does not track you, and the results it displays are not personalized for you in any way, there’s no “filter bubble.”
It can also be a good idea to seek out op-ed pieces and journalistic publications from other ends of the political spectrum. If you only read news and current events articles from writers and publishers with similar views to your own, you’re cordoning yourself off from exposure to other points of view. Those other points of view may be mistaken, but it’s important to try to understand why other people think different than you do.