The podcast The truth behind filter bubbles from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford discusses the concept of filter bubbles, which is the state of ideological isolation that may result from algorithms feeding us information that we agree with, based on our past behaviour and search history. However it is important that we take a closer look and differentiate filter bubbles and echo chambers.
Echo chambers are what might happen when we are overexposed to news that we like or agree with, potentially distorting our perception of reality because we see too much of one side and not enough of the other strengthening our beliefs and more importantly making us resistant to information that don’t fit our expectations or perception of reality.
Meanwhile, filter bubbles describe a situation where news that we dislike or disagree with is automatically filtered out, potentially narrowing what we know. The concept of filter bubbles is popular because the idea is plausible and easy to understand: „The filter bubble is a very powerful metaphor. Also the mechanisms which I described seem quite plausible. Everyone can understand them and they kind of make sense“, said Dr Richard Fletcher.
The importance of diversifying news sources
People are using the internet to get news, with around equal numbers of people saying that their main source of news is online and television. In some countries, TV is slightly ahead, while in others, online is slightly ahead. People under 45 are more likely to get their news online, while TV is more likely to be the main source of news for people over 45.
When it comes to filter bubbles, search engines, email and aggregators also rely on algorithms in some way to deliver news to people. And this has been getting more and more since all of these platforms and companys are fighting for the attention of their users. Around a third of people say that their main way of getting news online is by going directly to the websites and apps of news providers. Meanwhile, the other two-thirds say that their main way of getting news is through a side door, which includes services like search and social, and many of these services rely on algorithms to varying degrees.
Media usage and why we need to challenge our beliefs
In my opinion, filter bubbles have been given too much attention, while the issue of echo chambers has been somewhat ignored. The problem with echo chambers is that people’s beliefs are reinforced, and they end up with a limited perception of reality. While filter bubbles are a concern, algorithms aren’t necessarily the root of the problem. Other factors, such as the reliability of the information, the diversity of the news sources, and the individual’s own media literacy, also play a role.
It’s important to keep in mind that the algorithms are not always working in our favor, as they are programmed to show us the content that keeps us engaged and online, not necessarily the content that informs us or is in our best interests.
As individuals, we should strive to broaden our perspectives and engage with a diverse range of news sources. Instead of relying on algorithms to bring us the news, we can seek out alternative sources and actively challenge our beliefs. We should all make a conscious effort to follow a range of news outlets, and consider subscribing to sources that offer diverse viewpoints. This can help you to see a broader range of perspectives and avoid being too narrowly focused on one point of view. We all have our own biases and perspectives, and it’s important to be aware of them when consuming news.
Making an effort to seek out alternative viewpoints might not be what we wan’t to hear the most but it will expand our knowledge and ideas. Furthermore, media literacy should be encouraged in schools and beyond, as it plays an essential role in the ability to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. Ultimately, it’s not just the algorithms that need to change, but also the way we consume and engage with the news.
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