The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser

Eli’s Bio:

“Shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Eli Pariser created a website calling for a multilateral approach to fighting terrorism. In the following weeks, over half a million people from 192 countries signed on, and Pariser rather unexpectedly became an online organizer. The website merged with MoveOn.org in November 2001, and Pariser — then 20 years old — joined the group to direct its foreign policy campaigns. He led what the New York Times Magazine called the “mainstream arm of the peace movement” — tripling MoveOn’s member base and demonstrating how large numbers of small donations could be mobilized through online engagement.

In 2004, Pariser became executive director of MoveOn. Under his leadership, MoveOn.org Political Action has grown to 5 million members and raised over $120 million from millions of small donors to support advocacy campaigns and political candidates. Pariser focused MoveOn on online-to-offline organizing, developing phone-banking tools and precinct programs in 2004 and 2006 that laid the groundwork for Barack Obama’s extraordinary web-powered campaign. In 2008, Pariser transitioned the Executive Director role at MoveOn to Justin Ruben and became President of MoveOn’s board; he’s now a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.”-Ted Talk

“The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You,” by Eli Pariser brings up a very important social issue of personalization in the digital sphere. He introduces the topic circling around what the Internet is actually hiding from you – on a much deeper level than the public suspects. The basic fact is that the Internet is not an unbiased search tool delivering random content – there is a unique code behind it, tracking your every move. This algorithm allows the holder to collect the user’s data through their clicks/shares/posts/searches.

“The Internet doesn’t just know you’re a dog; it knows your breed and wants to sell you a bowl of premium kibble.” -The Filter Bubble

When personalized sites and products were first introduced, they had positive feedback, because it eliminated the third party – allowing users to access what they wanted to, faster, and with more success. After time, they started to see products and articles circling around their interests. Who wouldn’t like this? Well, Eli opens up the door to how exactly these products and articles are displayed to you. It’s this idea of “invisible propaganda: A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn,” Pariser states. Basically, a method of brainwashing us with our own interests and ideas, making it even more difficult to break out of this filter bubble.

Ted Talk

“The algorithms that orchestrate our ads are starting to orchestrate our lives.” -TFB

Eli Pariser defines the “Filter Bubble” on Brain Pickings:

“Your filter bubble is the personal universe of information that you live in online — unique and constructed just for you by the array of personalized filters that now power the web. Facebook contributes things to read and friends’ status updates, Google personally tailors your search queries, and Yahoo News and Google News tailor your news. It’s a comfortable place, the filter bubble — by definition, it’s populated by the things that most compel you to click. But it’s also a real problem: the set of things we’re likely to click on (sex, gossip, things that are highly personally relevant) isn’t the same as the set of things we need to know.” -Brain Pickings

This “Filter Bubble” removes the user’s control completely by creating a constructed image of the Internet that is “personalized”. But is this personalization a threat or a blessing? According to his book, there are 57 signals that Google looks at to personally tailor your results – thus removing a sense of standard searching. Even when a user is logged off, this “Filter Bubble” is still running.

“The rise of networking did not eliminate intermediaries, but rather changed who they are.” -TFB

This book created much hype due to the recent press release about Google and Facebook’s privacy settings. Several articles like the Huffington Post, NYT, and BrainPickings have used this book as reference for their own ideas and conclusions. I think this book has a great relevance to the recent events in society, and directly involves everyone who is present on the digital space. There is a large community who is upset about these privacy settings, including those who are figuring out ways to counteract these settings. But more importantly, it’s changing the way we view and rationalize the news. People are not focusing on the sources as much as they were. With the help of design, users are trusting random sites, blogs, to give them accurate information, when in turn these designs are being used as a method of brainwashing to increase click-through rates and engagement.

“People don’t make much of a distinction between the NYT and some random blogger.” -TFB

What I found interesting about “The Filter Bubble” is that there was no evidence of Google or Facebook’s privacy options of allowing users to turn off specific filters to make it a more “unpersonalized Web experience”. However, Pariser makes several good conclusions, recommendations, and thought-provoking questions to his users: “We need the Internet – we need it to be what we wanted it to be, we need it to connect us with each other, to introduce us – it’s not going to do that if it leaves us isolated into a web of one (aka, the Filter Bubble).”

Pariser leaves his users with the thought that we need to have control to what gets through and what doesn’t – we need to work to break this “Filter Bubble”.

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