I learned about Eli Pariser (2011) for the first time during the third year of my BA in Tilburg in a Philosophy class I was taking. After reading philosophers like Kant and Benjamin, reading Pariser’s book ‘The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You’ was a relief. His way of writing is concrete and readable and his ideas are easily applicable in today’s society. We had to read his introductory chapter for class, but after that, I decided to buy the whole book and read the rest of it as well. That ended up to be an eye-opener for me.
What Pariser describes in his book, is how we have entered an area of personalization since Google started with personalized search results in 2009. Every step we take on the internet is registered and when all these registered pieces are combined, a sort of personal data puzzle is created. For every online individual, there is one. Companies benefit from this, because when they have access to all these puzzles, they can easily target the right audience with the data they collect from our online behavior. But it also has consequences for what we get to see online, because through algorithms, all of that is tailored to our personal data profiles. That is were Pariser’s idea of the filter bubble pops up.
Pariser describes a development in which it is not just the commercial side that is personalized: the news is as well. Algorithms show us what they think we like to see. We might miss important news, because the algorithm thinks we do not like that kind of content. We also do not see perspectives that do not align with our own ideas. In that way, we end up in a filter bubble: “a unique universe of information for each of us, which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information” (p. 9). The filter bubble causes what Pariser nicely calls ‘auto-propaganda’: by being online in our filter bubble, we indoctrinate ourselves with the ideas we already have, with as a result that we do not learn anything new anymore.
As I said already, Pariser’s ideas were an eye-opener for me. I stopped unfollowing people that annoyed me with their controversial ideas. I started following some media that I normally would not read, like the Dutch popular newspaper De Telegraaf, that is known for its sensational way of writing. But above all, I started to be conscious. As long as you know that there is more out there than what you see online, as long as you know that the filter bubble exist, you might be able to escape from it.