The Filter Bubble and The Opinion Divide

Your boyfriend cheats on you right in front of you. After days spent crying in despair you wipe away your tears and head to Google for answers. In your misery you search "Why are men so stupid". You receive the following top 3 results.

Men are stupid results.png

All 3 top results confirm your suspicions that men are in fact stupid. You click the first link and Google's algorithms record the click.

You never took much interest in feminism before but the article mentions it a few times and you're in pain and open to new ideas. You spend the rest of the evening clicking the links of feminist articles learning about the social movement. Google records all of your clicks.

The following day after another hour spent crying into your pillow you clear away the tears again and hop back onto Youtube for some cute kitten videos to help ease the pain. 

But before you can click on any kitten videos another video catches your attention.

Dumb men Youtube result.png

Unaware to you, Google used the information from the previous day's searches to ensure other content that you are likely to be interested in appears to you. Youtube, after all, is owned by Google.

Still hurting from your cheating Boyfriend this thumbnail speaks to you. You click it and watch the pretty Vlogger explain 10 reasons why men are dumb. After the video ends another thumbnail to the right hand side of the video speaks out to you. 

Why Im a feminist.png

You remember now that you spent last night reading all about feminism. You click this video and watch as you finding yourself relating to the young girl in the video and agreeing with everything she says. At the end of the video she politely asks for you to like her Facebook page "Feminism for young women". You kindly oblige and you go ahead and "Like" her Facebook page.

Facebook records the click.

The following day you open up Facebook to stalk your ex-boyfriend and shout angrily at a digital image of his face. But before you can do that an article appears on your newsfeed that catches your interest.

Feminist Facebook Article.png

After many months of daily internet browsing you miraculously find yourself becoming a devout feminist. And now have strong opinions on all kinds of subjects: Abortion, gender equality in STEM fields, immigration, rape, the #METOO movement, workplace sexual misconduct, female gentile mutilation, safe spaces, domestic violence and the wage gap.

The world begins to feel incredibly unfair. It just seems as though men have it so much better. It's like everywhere you look there is injustice against women. 

And that's because it is.

It is everywhere you look.

The Youtube front page. The Facebook news feed. Your Twitter news feed. Your Google searches. 

YOU ARE INSIDE THE FILTER BUBBLE

 

Because unknown to you all of the information you receive has adapted itself to you. All the media you consume now runs down a similar train of thought. And so, without realising what's happened, your mind has been pushed towards a particular set of beliefs. A set of beliefs that, without the internet, may not have existed.

THE INTERNET HAS CHANGED

 

In the first decade of the millenium, there was a sense across the world that the internet would be an incredible tool that would connect people all over the world. No longer would people have narrow points of view. Everybody would understand each other as information travelled between societies and groups freely.

Many even looked ahead into the future and hypothesised that the internet would mean the end of war. One world consciousness, so connected together that war would be impossible.

Any active internet user will have fond memories of a kind of digital wild west, with very few restrictions and an endless source of interesting new information and points of view.

The Internet before 2010

The Internet before 2010

But since around 2010, a major shift has occurred online. The internet has become personalised.

THERE IS NO STANDARD GOOGLE ANYMORE

 

Every single person has Google results that are tailored to them. If two people search for "America" into Google, their results will be completely different from each other (besides a Wikipedia page and some basic information on the sidebar)

A patriotic individual would likely see content with headlines like "Why America is STILL the greatest country in the world", while a less patriotic individual might see "Do Americans need to adapt to America in decline".

With shockingly few exceptions, the content you find on Google will only confirm your existing beliefs.

And the bubble is incredibly difficult to see. How would you know if your search results were different from somebody else's?

Each and every individual is inside their invisible own filter bubble and only very few are really conscious of it's existence.

This isn't the wild west anymore.

Instead of users being able to roam freely around the open landscape of the internet on horseback, they're jailed in by their own personal filter bubble

As these algorithms have developed overtime, more recently we're beginning to see all of the personal filter bubbles merge into much larger, collective filter bubbles.

Filter bubbles containing millions of users sharing the ideology. Feminism. MGTOW. Flat earthers. Pro-immigration. Anti-immigration. Global warming is a myth. Left-Wing politics, Right-Wing politics. The list is endless.

 

THE GRAVITATIONAL PULL

The Filter Bubble has gravity.jpg

Each larger filter bubble has a gravitational pull towards the exact centre. The closer to the centre you're pulled the more extreme your views become. 

You can start by searching "Girls are annoying" and pulled into the MGTOW filter bubble until you're reading posts like "Why feminists are so fat and ugly" and "Women only want you for your wallet"

Without a conscious resistance against it, you're pulled into extreme points of view.

Content creators are desperate for clicks. And so are encouraged to write more and more extreme content. Because inside each filter bubble is a market of competeing content that wants your attention.

Balanced nuanced content doesn't draw in many clicks. It's the sensationalised, provocative Youtube video that draws in an audience. And so content creators are incentivised to create content stating extreme opinions, usually accompanied by clickbait headlines. EG. "Why are millenials such snowflakes" or "How the baby boomers ruined the world".

This is where the gravitational pull comes from. Because you're more likely to click the more the sensationalised headlines.

The more time you spend consuming the same online ideology, the harder it is to understand any opposing points of view. 

And the walls of your filter bubble get stronger as Google and Facebook's algorithms feed you more and more of the same content.

Even the rare open minded person who actively tries to research the opposing point of view will find it strangely difficult to do. Just take a look at this Google search:

Trump Search.png

Both of these articles in the first page of my results have negative viewpoints on Trump. The search algorithms simply takes my keywords and finds articles I will be likely to agree with and therefore more likely to click on.

Inside the filter bubble, opposing points of view do not exist.

This leads to the great internet wars.

 

THE GREAT INTERNET WARS

Fb Thumbnail.png

 

Millennials vs Baby Boomers

Feminists vs Mens Rights Activists.

Trump vs Hilary

 

The 2016 US elections was a clear example of the filter bubbles of the internet at work.

The Trump Bubble thinks immigrants should be banned, global warming is nothing to worry about, feminists are silly , the media has a liberal bias and use the word "Libtard" and "Snowflakes" to describe anybody on the other side of the political spectrum.

The Hilary bubble is feminist, pro-immigration, anti-war(Even if her politics are not) and uses the hashtag #ImWithHer

Those in the Hilary bubble were completely shocked when Donald Trump won the election because everything they were reading/watching spoke about how Trump was a buffoon who was never going to win. When outside the filter bubble the reality was different. 

The walls of these filter bubbles are so thick that people become ANGRY on the rare occasion that they're exposed to the opposing side's point of view.

Because inside the filter bubble you're fed and re-fed opinions that agree with your own. So you become more and more sure of yourself. And so when opposing points of view do crop up they seem like complete nonsense.

That's how a huge group of people can form who believe that THE EARTH IS FLAT.

And this has contributed massively to the increase in political extremism we see today. Because the more sure of yourself you are, the less open you are to opposing points of view. 

There are also bubbles Nazi sympathiser bubbles. Huge groups of people surrounded by content that sympathises with Nazi ideology. In short, a huge group of people that are becoming more and more certain that Hitler was right. 

Echo chambers have always been a problem, especially in politics. But it seems as though right now the internet is not only ENCOURAGING echo chambers to exist but also DRAGGING unsuspecting users into them and then building digital walls to make sure they don't escape.

Books I read to research for this article:

The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think: https://amzn.to/2V7mWP0