Week 4

In The Filter Bubble, Pariser makes the claim that we have entered the “era of personalization” on the Internet, and that this personalization is hindering our ability to find new information and ideas. This personalization seems appealing because there is far more information on the Internet than we as individuals can consume, and it provides us with the information that we want and think we need. Many of us long to avoid information that does not directly relate to us, and focus solely on the information that we find interesting. However, personalization creates what Pariser calls a “filter bubble” that keeps us from receiving some information. Since the Internet provides us with the information that we think we want, we have no need to go looking for more, and so any information not provided is neglected.

Pariser mentions that democracy “requires a reliance on shared facts”. That being said, the filter bubble could destroy this idea entirely. The more personalized our Internet experience becomes, the less shared information there will be. While people with the same interests will have similar knowledge and be provided with the same information, there will be huge gaps between these areas of interest where people are not connecting and sharing ideas. Though we want information on what interests us, we need more than just that. We need to be able to receive the information that affects our decisions and our lives, even if it does not relate to what we need. The more filtered our information becomes, the less people will be informed to make good decisions.

The idea of the filter bubble is seen in a unique way in Chapter 3 of Morozov’s Net Delusion. As Pariser says, the filter bubble is keeping people from receiving the information they need to make informed decisions, while providing them with the information they want. Morozov explains that the Russian government knows this, and uses it to their advantage to maintain government support and avoid any political aversion. The Russian government knows that in providing people with what they want — in this case, entertainment in the form of online videos or other sites — helps to keep citizens from voicing opinions about politics or expressing their dissatisfaction with government. Russia is essentially relying on the fact that their citizens are too distracted with their own interests to worry about the ideals of their government. With these interesting distractions provided for them, there is no need to seek out other information.

Pariser mentions that early on, the Internet was seen as the tool that would “erode power” and essentially give citizens the ability to have control in their own government. Do you think that the filter bubble has completely eroded the idea of democracy, or do you think that despite the filter bubble, the Internet has provided citizens with a way to increase their power in government decisions?


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4 Responses to Week 4

  1. Nick E. says:

    I think that the Internet is the ideal tool to facilitate an effective deliberative democracy. Before the Internet, it was hard for people to get involved and have a say in how things function in society.With features such as blogs and online message boards, the Internet allows people to voice their opinions like never before. While it is diminishing, I think anonymity is a very important part of the Internet. Anonymity and autonomy allows people to proclaim their true, uninhibited beliefs, which they might not do in a real-life setting. Anonymity shelters constitutionally-protected decisions about speech, beliefs, and political associations, and this freedom of scrutiny allows for the free flowing of uninhibited beliefs. When people’s opinions are monitored, their decisions and behaviors tend to fall more towards the mainstream.

    • ariellme says:

      I do not think that democracy has been completely eroded, yet it seems as though it is moving in that direction. With personalization, individuals become stuck in a bubble of information that they already know/agree with. The internet has an immense amount of potential for individuals who are curious about the world and deliberately seek out varied opinions and information sources. However, for the individuals who have no interest in politics and events that are happening throughout the rest of the world, there will be substantial gaps of knowledge. If the individuals who are interested in politics make more of a commotion than individuals with a lack of interest in politics, they will have the power to influence the government’s decisions. In Russia, the people care more about watching and reading about entertainment, as opposed to politics, on the Internet, so the government retains power.

      I also disagree with the above comment regarding anonymity. I believe that anonymity was an important feature during the onset of the internet, but due to the ways in which search engines and advertisers monitor internet users today, anonymity is largely a thing of the past. Without even logging into google, the site is able to identify countless details about who you are, where you are located, and what you are interested in. I think that anonymity has become harder to preserve over the last few years because we have released so much information about ourselves, whether it be on Facebook or via email accounts. I am not yet sure what this means for society, but it is apparent that it will dramatically impact how individuals choose to identify themselves.

  2. ekaz95 says:

    I definitely do not believe that the power of the internet, in terms of democracy, has been eroded. While it is true that the filter bubble certainly has the effect of reinforcing the pre-existing views of individual users, there are aspects of social media that I believe help to keep the scales from tipping too far to one end. The fact is that there are issues that matter to everyone, on some degree. Certain decisions and activities that occur within the political sphere are relevant to anyone who calls themselves a citizen. While it is the radical ideas that illicit change, if they have substance to them and are able to gain exposure and build momentum, they will become mainstream; we recently saw this occur with the occupy movement. The internet is by far the easiest way for these ideas to spread and one of the best ways for that to happen is through social media platforms. Websites like Facebook and Twitter are often the places where people spend the most time on the internet. Thus, as these ideas spread person by person, either through shared images or articles, they become more relevant to the user if they see that it is something that their friends are also concerned about. So while certainly the filter bubble hinders people from getting a larger scope of information, I do not fear the destruction of the internet’s democratic power as long as these online tools continue to be utilized as open communicative devices.

  3. nverduin says:

    I believe that the Internet, with all of these personalization tools, has the ability to erode or chip away at the basic requirements for a successful democracy. Society should be cautious of the power to “filter” information. Today we are constantly confronted with personalized information, whether we intentionally personalize it with tools like Pandora and DVR, or if PageRank by Google or EdgeRank by Facebook personalizes it for us. We may find personalization more convenient and faster, but it also limited our exposure to only certain types of perspectives and topics that we approve of or agree with. We should be wary of blocking encounters that force us to recognize and think about unknown or counter points-of-view. Interacting with these other ideas are what democracy is built on. With personalization we are losing certain aspects of Social Capital discussed by Putnam. We may increase the probability of groupthink because we are only interacting with like-minded issues. Of course complete polarization and groupthink is extreme, but entirely possible if individuals in society do not open themselves up to debating issues relevant to our democracy.

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