September 10, 2021
Inside a bubble
To: either/view subscribers
Good morning. We won’t be publishing the ‘Know Your Rights’ article tomorrow, as we are not working today on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi. We will be back with the weekly summary edition on Sunday.
Note: ‘State of the States’ will be published from next week.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The Filter Bubble Tale – Customised Search and Tracked History
Your Instagram explore feed is absolutely different from your friend’s and so is your Google, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon and Swiggy feeds and suggestions. Have you ever wondered how this is possible?
A website algorithm makes selective guesses on what you would like to see based on your location and activities on the web. This is called a ‘filter bubble’. The term literally refers to ‘a state of intellectual isolation’. This eases your internet search and helps you enjoy a customised web activity. But it shows only a part of reality and could cause partial or even biased views. Let’s see what this could mean to you and why some people are not in favour of filter bubbles.
Is there a need for this conversation right now? Is it relevant to you, to us, to India? Well, we all are increasingly getting attached to our smartphones in the digital era and so this is the need of the hour. Our parents and grandparents, who once found technology weird, are now active on social media and tap their feet to Tik Tok trends. So it is important we understand the pros and cons of the ongoing filter bubble conversation.
Have you searched on the internet for a favourite phone you badly want to buy? Within the next few days, you might have seen popping suggestions and advertisements on the apps you use, encouraging you to buy that product. Similarly, if you use Instagram to watch, say Bigg Boss videos for a while, your explore section might be filled with videos and memes relating to it for the next few months. This is because of the filter bubble.
Before we get to the debate of whether it is right or wrong, we will first figure out how this whole thing works. Let’s take the example of Facebook. Facebook knows what posts you read, like, save and hide. They store the data in their algorithm and that algorithm helps you see relevant items on the feed. So, when you see posts from your favourite accounts on your timeline, it is not a coincidence, it is all just data, my friend!
Filter bubble eases our internet search
It is our nature to be around people who agree with us and are like-minded. In this digital world, the internet has made this easier for us. Let’s say you just completed watching Money Heist and Google it to check if another season is on cards. Maybe the next time, you could see suggestions about series or movies similar to Money Heist. It is easier for you to select the next series you want to watch.
This works the same way in buying your favourite products, seeing relatable posts on social media and consuming information of your liking. Imagine if there is no filter bubble, then you will have to search through the immense world of information on the internet and find out the things of your choice. In this fast-paced world, we don’t have so much time.
That’s why a filter bubble is an absolute necessity. It will help you find things easily to keep up with the speed. Let’s talk about a few e-commerce sites. Studies reveal that three out of four customers get frustrated when they don’t find content relevant to their interests. So, content that resonates with the audience is the prime goal of e-commerce sites. We all have a favourite eatery, coffee house and brands. We visit it again and again. It is special because ‘they treat you like the individual you are’.
Content personalization is doing the same. They are trying to treat you like the individual you are. You are completely satisfied with the content and you frequently visit their webpage and applications. It is a win-win situation, don’t you think?
If you search about ‘Shah Rukh Khan’, Google has 4,61,00,000 results. Do we have the time to go through all these pages? If Google knows you are maybe searching for his recent film updates, there is no harm in seeing those results on the first page itself. So based on your clicks and searches, the algorithms help you find products of your interest.
Filter bubble blinds us to the other side
Unarguably, the filter bubble makes it easier to access our favourite content. But this comes at a major cost. To begin with, the basic concern with the filter bubble is that most of us aren’t aware of this. Most of us do not know that our searches are customised and personalised based on our likes, comments, saves and whatnot.
This brings up the major issue. Every digital act of yours is being traced. With algorithms, cookies, pixels, our information is being tracked and harvested. It is good for marketing and saves time for us, but what about our privacy? Additionally, there are reports suggesting how social media and the filter bubble have played major roles in the U.S. Presidential election in 2016.
When we go to shops to select a dress, most of us like to choose it ourselves. We do not want others to choose it for us. But on the virtual platform, we are letting an algorithm choose for us. The filter bubble is making our choices on behalf of us. This is just guesswork based on data. The question is – do these choices really match our interests?
Even if it is our interest, the filter bubble blindfolds us from the other side of the world. It isolates our thoughts. For searches about Shah Rukh Khan, it is beneficial. But what about the searches we make about a revolution in another country. What if the results are personalised based on our location? This changes everything.
Through a filter bubble, we might be introduced to a world, but that’s not the entire world in reality. One-sided information can affect us and cause closed-mindedness. Experts believe that our opinions are often skewed because of consuming only selective information based on our interests. The important issue is that, by consuming things that align with our thoughts and activities, we are completely blindsided about the possibilities of another side. It is not just about not knowing the other side, it is more to do with not knowing the existence of another side.
By personalising content for us, filter bubbles push us towards a more stereotyped and simplified version of ourselves. Eli Pariser, an internet activist, tells us that it is more like – “This person is a male, so we will show him more gadgets and car news”.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
We cannot save journalism if we fail to save journalists
For the Left:
Have SC’s attempts to depoliticise police inadvertently led to a weakening of federalism?
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹62,085 crore – Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) received by Karnataka between April to June 2021. This is the highest FDI received by any state in that quarter, having garnered 48% of the total FDI received by India.