With so much research available on the existence of filter bubbles, it can be exhausting trying to sort through the arguments. But the current literature does suggest that they do exist.
A central article on this topic gives a critical analysis of available literature on filter bubbles and evaluates their existence. Spohr initially set out to prove filter bubbles are not involved in ideological polarisation. However, he came across the same problem I had – there are compelling arguments for both sides. In the analysis, several articles strongly suggested that selective exposure is very prevalent on Facebook. But Spohr also found many reports saying the complete opposite: that there is no evidence of filter bubbles anywhere on the internet.
Because of this conflict, there is also not much research into the effect filter bubbles have on political debate and elections. As mentioned earlier, there is some evidence to suggest that this is possible. Companies like AggregateIQ who use an individual’s data to produce targeted ads could influence a person’s ideological beliefs.
Although we can opt-out of targeted ads on Facebook, this doesn’t stop the platform from collecting data about your online behaviour. Facebook’s data collection makes it hard to avoid filter bubbles, especially if you are unaware of them.
It seems like the research is swaying towards the existence of filter bubbles, and that they did have an effect on Brexit voters. For us to properly evaluate the prevalence of filter bubbles, we need to conduct more research. It is hard to judge whether filter bubbles influenced the Brexit outcome due to the lack of research. Because of the possibility for filtering algorithms to impact the way a person votes, I think more we need to do more research on this topic.
Spohr, D. 2017, ‘Fake news and ideological polarization: Filter bubbles and selective exposure on social media’, Business Information Review, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 150-160.