Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, argues that the internet enables individuals to bypass intermediaries and “consume, distribute, and create their own content without government control.” But in reality a few large transnational corporations such as Google act as intermediaries on the internet, filtering the content that people see, and “while their multinational character makes them resistant to some forms of regulation, they can also offer one-stop shopping for governments seeking to influence information flows.”
Democracy requires citizens to know what is going on in the world and in the nation and what its government’s policies are and how the consequences of them.
Reference: Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin. 2011, p. 14.
Democracy requires citizens to see things from one another’s point of view, but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we’re being offered parallel but separate universes. My sense of unease crystallized when I noticed that my conservative friends had disappeared from my Facebook page.
It is the ability to bridge the differences between different niche communities that “creates our sense of the ‘public’” and transcend narrow self-interests for the greater common good. People behave differently in their role as consumers and their role as citizens; they have different information needs, different expectations, different interests. But social media and search companies on the internet are only interested in turning everyone into consumers.
Reference: Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin. 2011, p. 78.
First, the filter bubble surrounds us with ideas with which we’re already familiar (and already agree), making us overconfident in our mental frameworks. Second, it removes from our environment some of the key prompts that make us want to learn.
However, if we are constantly fed information that we agree with and like, it tends to reinforce our prejudices and our view of the world, creating a “confirmation bias”. And whilst this is pleasant and satisfying it never challenges us to question our assumptions, increase our understanding, rethink our point of view or generate new ideas. “The personalized environment is very good at answering the questions we have but not at suggesting questions or problems that are out of our sight altogether.”
© 2017 Sharon Beder