Why I’m Calling BS on the Filter Bubble

The Filter Bubble is a fancy new term for “The Echo Chamber”, and although the idea is not new, we’ll hear a lot more about it in the next few years.

It’s always good to approach new technologies with caution and skepticism, but I am not particularly fussed about “The Filter Bubble”, certainly not anymore than I was ten years ago. Why?

  • New media actually has the complete opposite effect of a filter bubble. Instead of being forced to read all the views from a small handful of newspapers and TV stations, you have unlimited choice if you want it.
  • Personal recommendation systems, based on your browsing habits, don’t have to recommend things similar to what you’ve seen in the past; they can equally introduce randomness and are well placed to bubbling up opposing views.
  • So the choice is better than before, and so are the technologies to specifically break you out of the echo chamber. Then why do people end up in a filter bubble? Because they choose to. Most people are too busy with work and life to go out of their way to explore different news and views.
  • But you’re different. You do want to bust the bubble and you’ll specifically subscribe to challenging RSS feeds and follow Twitter users you disagree with. This is an awesome explanation of what probably happens if you attempt it. TL;DR: empirical evidence people queue up intellectual movies to watch later, but when push comes to shove, they will watch popcorn movies instead. We can assume the same happens when we sign up for different stuff. On the whole, the disruption hurts our head and we end up ignoring it, so the “filter bubble” is just a mirror of our own preferences.

There’s a good discussion along these lines in this week’s On the Media podcast (from around 33:00).