While some may not consider filter bubbles as posing too much of a threat, others believe that they can cause damage outside of the internet. In his TED Talk, Eli Pariser mentioned one of his first experience of filter bubbles. He noticed one day that all of the conservative posts had disappeared from his news feed. Pariser later found out it was due to Facebook checking the posts and links with which he was interacting. As he was mostly clicking on the links his liberal friends posted, Facebook removed the ones he was ignoring.
Without even realising, Pariser’s feed had begun filling with only the views of people he agreed with, simply because he interacted with those posts more. The subtlety of online personalisation means it can be hard for internet users who are uneducated on filter bubbles to spot them. If a user is unaware they are in a filter bubble, it is easy for them to assume the content they see on their feed is the absolute truth. Additionally, if the content agrees with what the user believes, then over time, that can lead to a similar concept known as an echo chamber.
Echo chambers and filter bubbles both refer to the state of ‘isolation’ that occurs due to the absence of opposing views. However, it is essential to understand the difference concerning news media.
The term echo chamber refers to situations where people are introduced only to information produced by like-minded individuals. The difference is that filter bubbles occur due to personalisation algorithms, whereas echo chambers happen when a group of people with similar views come together and develop tunnel vision. Those involved might feel more confident in these spaces because they are often encouraged to share their perspective, and will have the same opinion echoed back at them.
When individuals are part of these echo chambers for extended periods, they can begin to develop ‘groupthink’. The concept of groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when groups experience a loss of rational-decision making. Groupthink is dangerous because it involves encouraging members to conform to the group’s views, and to ignore problems that the group’s beliefs may have.
Not all groups with like-minded views are wrong. Those geared towards support and recovery from things like chronic and mental illnesses can be extremely positive. But even these kinds of groups can be susceptible to groupthink and echo chambers if they become part of a filter bubble.