Eli Pariser’s concept of ‘filter bubbles’ raises several political implications; I’ve unravelled a few…
If you’re not familiar with the ‘filter bubble’ argument, start with Eli Pariser’s Ted talk.
Without appropriate governance, the Internet is a space in which bias and manipulation can flourish, in turn; this is reflecting negatively on democracy, polarising locked in users, which is ultimately creating dangerous divisions within society.
Internet governance is thus crucial for the evolution and development of the Internet, as it constitutes a set of rules and standards among Internet users.
The current framework for governing the Internet is becoming increasingly inadequate, for the reason that corporate companies are falling outside the scope of regulation. The current Information Infrastructure is constituting a space for commerce, in which tools of surveillance, hidden machines and codes/algorithms go beyond the capacity of humans.
This was exemplified in June 2014, when Facebook published details of an experiment they carried out, in which they manipulated information posted on over 680,000 users’ news feeds, concluding that it could alter the users’ psychological state.
Corporate companies, such as Facebook and Google have developed such tools to personalise users’ Internet experience, but by doing so have created a space in which mainstream media dominates, making perceptions of the Web as a globally equal place erroneous.
Personalisation & Transparency
Eli Pariser’s argument tends to focus heavily on the influence and censorship of corporate companies (macro-approach), but by doing so, Pariser fails to acknowledge the influence and impacts of the user, especially in terms of manipulating the Internet and shaping its development.
We must remind ourselves that corporate companies, such as Google and Facebook do in fact permit users to turn off most of the filters, thereby reducing the personalisation of their Internet space.
Further to this, Pariser’s concept of the ‘filter bubble’ has been contested with the growth of social media outlet Twitter. Twitter is a platform that uniquely encourages users to engage within their own space, without the superseding filters and personalization search algorithms.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have to become more transparent in the digital age. Google has recently released a Transparency Report, but for competitive and security reasons (spammers/black hat hackers), they did not devolve much information about their operating systems.
There is certainly a risk of overlooking the minority on the Web, creating what Möller (2013:27) describes as:
“an exponentially smaller public space.”
Overlooking the minority on the Web underpins the problem we now face with private corporate companies dominating the Internet (such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook). It appears that such companies now lay deep underground, well beyond the technical jurisdiction or control of nation states.
Is Twitter changing the way we communicate?
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project compiled a survey on the basis of phone interviews with 1,800 respondents in the US; their results showed that among black Internet users, 26% use Twitter, far outpacing whites (14%) and Hispanics (19%). Such results imply that corporate companies, such as Twitter can indeed act as gatekeepers on the Web, protecting minorities and providing a platform for their views.
Without the appropriate regulation of corporate companies, the Internet will become, if it hasn’t already, an infrastructure that exploits the rights and liberties of its users, continuing to have severe consequence for democracy.
Thus, the implementation of a multi-stake holder level of governance seems an appropriate option for Internet governance. With the correct foundations, the Internet can become a democratic infrastructure that benefits all its users, including corporate giants, minorities, nation states and alike.
The Internet was never intended to become a space for corporate companies to take for granted. A multi-stakeholder level of Internet governance needs to be implemented before it is too late, as Marshall McLuhan once said:
“we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us” (cited in Pariser, 2011:1).
List of references
Booth, R. (2014), ‘Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions’. The Guardian (Online), 30 June 2014. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds
Möller, C. (2013)’New Technology, Minorities and Internet Governance’. Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, 12, pp. 16-33.
Pariser, E. (2011) The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. United Kingdom. Penguin Books Ltd.
Pew Research Center (2013) ‘Minorities Rush to Twitter, Instagram, Smartphones,’ [Online]. Available from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2013/Minoritiesrush-to-Twitter-Instagram-smartphones.aspx.
TED (2015) Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” [Online]. Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en#t-5728
TED (2015) TED Quotes [Online]. Available from: http://www.ted.com/quotes?q=Eli+Pariser&cat=quotes&sort=popularity