In recent years, the media has caused a lot of hype about filter bubbles and how damaging they are. Because of this, more people are questioning if they exist. Some of the evidence suggests yes they do, but some believe filter bubbles are not as prevalent as they are made out to be.
One of the main arguments against filter bubbles is that filtering algorithms are entirely dependent on the user’s online behaviour. For example, Seargeant and Tagg conducted a study over two years to investigate if this is true. Using data from their project, Creating Facebook, they analysed survey and interview responses from 141 active Facebook users. The data showed that the way users react to conflict online and the strategies they use to avoid further conflict contribute to the polarising of debate.
Evidence from this study proves that despite Facebook filtering content, users were still able to see posts by people with differing views. Seargeant and Tagg suggest that filter bubbles do not exist in this circumstance. Or when they do exist, it is as a direct result of an individual’s online behaviour as opposed to personalisation algorithms. The main limitation of this study, however, is that the data can’t be generalised. As they only used a small sample, it is likely not representative of the total number of Facebook users.
Another argument against filter bubbles comes from Zuiderveen Borgesius et al., who investigated empirical research on filter bubbles. They analysed the prevalence of personalisation algorithms and the effect that they can have on internet users. The article looks at the self-selected and pre-selected personalisation types, concluding that there is no empirical evidence to suggest filter bubbles are a present threat. The authors note that some individuals who encounter heavily filtered content on Facebook are not only exposed to this type of content. Those individuals may also use non-personalised sites as well.
An important point this article raises is that many studies in this area become outdated quickly due to advances in technology and how quickly social media platforms change. It also comments on how most studies relating to filter bubbles use US participants in their samples. The problem with only using US data is that their government follows the two-party system, so these studies are not entirely applicable to countries using multiparty systems.
This research brings about some very divisive opinions for those interested in filter bubbles. But one thing is for sure, the debate around this topic is undoubtedly vital if personalisation algorithms continue to evolve.
Seargeant, P. & Tagg, C. 2019, ‘Social media and the future of open debate: A user-oriented approach to Facebook’s filter bubble conundrum’, Discourse, Context & Media, vol. 27, pp. 41–48.
Zuiderveen Borgesius, F., Trilling, D., Möller, J., Bodó, B., de Vreese, C. & Helberger, N. 2016, ‘Should we worry about filter bubbles?’, Internet Policy Review, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 2-16.