Filter Bubbles: Personalisation Gone Too Far?

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I first wrote about filter bubbles back in 2012, shortly after discovering a Ted Talk that was done by Eli Pariser (check out the video here).

Around that same time, I was sat in various digital marketing meetings, with a good chunk of time allocated to personalisation, and how we could deploy personalised content campaigns for clients.

Back then, only a few campaigns had truly cracked personalised content campaigns. Take This Lollipop, which debuted in 2011, and Intel’s Museum of Me, which arrived later that same year. Both used Facebook Connect in order to pull out information and images from your Facebook profile to create a personal experience.

Most of us know that our app and web experience is customised by our browsing history, search history, online preferences, social connections, and more. If GDPR did nothing else, hopefully it made people realise how much personal data is stored by Facebook, Google and the other online behemoths.

Eli Pariser announced the notion of filter bubbles over 6 years ago. And the web has moved on a tremendous amount since then. His theory was that algorithms were giving us an edited version of the web – a world where we’re being shown more of what algorithms think we want to see, and less of what we should see.

Whilst social media has revolutionised the way  we communicate online, it’s also made us a global nation of online curtain twitchers. Constantly checking social media to see what our friends and so-called friends are up to. Every photo, video, snap, story or tweet we post, we quickly hurry back shortly after posting every time our phones send us a dopamine notification.

Filter bubbles - social media vanity

We’re online more often than ever before. Reading, watching, consuming, commenting and stalking more than ever before. In fact at the last count, we spend more time online than we do sleeping. With more time online comes more content. And with more content comes the inevitable. A lot of valuable information is filtered from our eyes.

Whilst Facebook admittedly is making updates to its algorithm to show more useful content from friends and family, you can still hide certain posts and friends you don’t want to receive updates from.

Instagram has an algorithm. So does Twitter. The list goes on.

As a result, we’ve ended up in our own personalised web bubbles. Herein lies the problem. Little online bubbles of information have been created for us, based on what the internet thinks we want to see, not what we need to see.

Think about all the daily information you consume. Blog posts and news articles, social media updates, videos etc.  In general, that information comes from the same sources, right? And then shared with the same people, who share similar pieces of content to you, as that’s the main reason you follow them. Then everything is reset for the next day of filtered information.

A former colleague of mine once spoke about creativity and breaking from the norm. He said:

“If you consume the same shit as everyone else, you’ll think the same thoughts”

With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google showing us what they think we should see from our personal bubbles, it’s often difficult to step back and view news, updates and information from a different perspective.

So how do you break out of these online filter bubbles? Do things differently.

Follow people on Twitter and Instagram you wouldn’t normally follow. Unhide people on Facebook you haven’t seen an update from in a while. Read a different news source.

Take it a step further. Walk a different way to work. Call people instead of texting or sending a WhatsApp. Meet people instead of calling. In many ways our phones and social media have actually stopped many people being social.

Smartphones and social media - making us anti-social?

According to Eli Pariser, we’ve shifted from human gatekeepers of information in traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc.), to computer based, algorithmic gatekeepers with no sentiment or ethics.

Eli gave us 5 tips to help control some of the information we see online. His tips are as follows (see how many of these relate to GDPR?!):

  1. Delete your cookies.
  2. Delete your web and search history
  3. Tell Facebook to keep your data private, and be conscious about the data Facebook holds on you
  4. Turn off targeted ads (https://www.youradchoices.com/)
  5. Go incognito. Or better yet, go anonymous.

Are you conscious that news, information and friend updates are automatically filtered from you? Are you happy with it? Are you happy with the time you spend online? Let us know in the comments below!

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