What the internet is hiding from you
How personalization on the internet, combined with the influence of social media, creates a 'filter bubble' that limits access to certain kinds of information.
Story from Living on Earth. Listen to audio above for full report.
Eli Pariser, the internet organizing guru behind MoveOn.org says companies like Google are pushing a personalized internet experience. And that personalization, combined with the influence of social media, forms something he calls the "filter bubble." That's the title of Pariser's new book, "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You."
In the following interview with Living on Earth's Jeff Young, Pariser explains how the filter bubble works to limit access to certain kinds of information.
YOUNG: So if we have two people of different stripes searching on the term climate change what do you think they’re likely to come up with -- do you think that they're going to see the same news, same opinions, about climate change?
PARISER: Well, they may not. Google may decide that one person is clearly clicking more on links with a certain kind of valence or a certain kind of perspective on climate change. And that the other person has a different perspective and shows them more links on that. For two different people with two different search histories and different political perspectives, that may be very different. What it means though is that they're each getting a pretty different view of the world. They're getting a different sense of what the main topics are on climate change -- of what the lay of the land is.
YOUNG: So when we look at these public opinion polls that show this great polarization on climate change, and disagreement even over what scientists would tell us is very settled science, we say, "well, gee, it seems like these people are getting totally different information!" What you're saying is “yeah, they are.”
PARISER: That's right, yeah. I did this last spring with two friends who Googled for BP. One person had search results that were full of information about the oil spill, about the environmental consequences. The other person literally had nothing about the oil spill on any of the search results.
YOUNG: Now, we've detected a little bit of push-back against some of your claims, with people trying to recreate your experiment. And, what people find is that they get more or less the same results. Do your claims stand up?
PARISER: Well, there is a good academic paper that just came out. It basically found that about
64 percentof Google results will differ from each other after you have about 3,000 queries. So that's about a year's worth of use, maybe a little less. As you're using Google again and again, it means you're seeing a pretty different view of the world.
YOUNG: So this is what you're calling the "filter bubble," right?
PARISER: Well, the filter bubble is sort of this personal unique universe of information that is created when we have these sort of personalizing algorithms following us around everywhere we go online. And because it's not just sort of Google search, it's also Facebook, it's also Yahoo and Netflix, but increasingly it's also the news sites that we visit. On the front page of the New York Times, which now has a recommended section; the Washington Post just invested in Trove -- a company that tries to provide this totally personalized news experience, and the problem with that is, there are certain kinds of topics that just won't do very well in that kind of world.
YOUNG: Hm. So what kind of story makes the cut in a world where we're each other editors -- via, say, Facebook -- and we're clicking the "Like" button, we're sharing the links, what gets shared? What gets "Liked"?
PARISER: Well, the "Like" button is really worth thinking about for a moment, because Facebook is becoming this place, for better or for worse, where people are increasingly getting their news ... getting their information about the world. And the primary way that you spread information across Facebook is that you click "Like" on it. But, "Like" has a very particular valence as a positive word and it's easy to click "Like" on "I ran a marathon" and it's hard to click like on, you know, "Global Climate Continues to Climb."
YOUNG: Right. What does it say about me if I click "Like" on "Climate Change Worse than We Thought." It's a value judgment that's going to keep me from hitting "Like".
PARISER: Topics like a lot of environmental issues or climate change don't get the kind of attention that they need. There’s no "Important" button that balances out the effect of the "Like" button on Facebook.
Read more and get tips on how to get around the "filter buble" on the Living on Earth website.
Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More about "Living on Earth."