Observations, Technology.

The Internet Filter – thanks, TED

Today, through the most typical Internet feeds, you see highly filtered content, often unbeknownst to you.  For those who rely on the Internet more and more for news, opinions, and various other information, as I do, this has the solopsistic effect of virtual navel-gazing, and perhaps as insidious, when you ask the self-same question as another person, each of you often see very different things! Eli Pariser, in a recent TED talk, points out that major Internet sites like Google, Facebook, Amazon, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, to name a few, are performing more and more algorithmic filtering of what you see to tailor the results to your perceived liking.

Besides the obvious economic benefit to these companies (this action drives highly specific ads to you, ones you are more likely to respond to, resulting in more ad revenue and more sales), to some degree this is also beneficial to you, as you work less hard to find what you want. This content is filtered by your own patterns, so you get to see more of what you have shown some interest in already.

But, Eli asks, what do you lose in this arrangement? Given that this filtering is mostly hidden from you, a good deal. Clearly, you don’t know what you are missing.   The Internet has been displacing of late print and broadcast media, which is of course highly filtered itself, by editors and owners. Eli posits that, with algorithmic filtering, we are currently losing the ethical and ideological decisions that human editors impart, and in particular, the underlying concern by those editors regarding public issues and concerns. He suggests that the filtering should be more transparent, with perhaps ways to opt out, at least on a specific basis, to allow your to choose more of what you see. The strength of the Internet is more rapid access to more information across a potentially larger spectrum of ideas and opinions that you would find a a few broadcast or print media sources. He is also appealing to those designers of information-driven websites to work hard to add additional dimensions to the inevitable filtering, to maximize our ability to stay informed, and for those who wish to, avoid being limited to the echo chamber of our own thoughts and beliefs.

How do you avoid this trap when using these popular sites? I am not sure, but using webpage aggregators and not limiting your information to just search engines or the dominant social, opinion and news sites, you can keep your information sources more open, and less filtered.

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