Facebook & Filter Bubbles

Written by
Michael Wells

Facebook & Filter Bubbles

Use Social Media without Getting Used

Written by
Michael Wells

Facebook & Filter Bubbles

Use Social Media without Getting Used

Written by
Michael Wells
Technology & Futurism
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SERIES

This article is part of the series 

The Disinformation Pandemic

.

This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

QUESTION

How Facebook decides what you see

The algorithm is watching you more closely, and in more ways than you think.

Every time you or your friends click an article, Facebook remembers. Every time you watch a video, you’re casting a vote. Every time you like a post, or share it, you’re telling Facebook one thing...

I like this. More of this please.

And oh, by the way, make sure my friends all see this too.

Even simply pausing your scroll to read a post without clicking on it, is considered a vote by Facebook. 

Every interaction tells Facebook what to give you more of, and what to shove in front of the eyes of your friends. 

Welcome to the Matrix

Facebook is not like a newspaper. It's not news. There are no editors fact-checking what is put in front of you. All of that is voted in by you and your friends.

Facebook is also not like a magazine. What's on the next page is not "already printed and waiting for you to see it." It's being constructed based on what you are doing right now. Did you just pause to read a sports headline? The algorithm sees that, and knows you are interested in sports right now. The next thing you get? Most likely sports, too.

And by the way, would you like to buy this rugby jersey?

The reason that Facebook is so addictive, is that it does this exceptionally well.

Welcome to “social media”, where you and your friends create the world you see.

You are creating your own Matrix, in a very real way, and your friends are voting stuff into your Matrix too. I hope you chose them carefully.

What’s the consequence?

Lately, people are clicking on and reacting to some pretty wild stuff.

And the Matrix is getting weird.

It’s like a genie, that takes things very literally.

Oh you liked that article about COVID vaccine killing a bunch of people did you?  OK! Here’s a million more.

Even if you don’t click on them, but your friends do... Facebook’s algorithm sees that as a solid suggestion that you might like this stuff too.

Very quickly, your feed contains nothing else.

Stuff Correspondent Charlie Mitchell gives an identical perspective on this problem that is far more eloquent, and well worth a read. 

Welcome to your Filter Bubble

The Matrix has a name. It is called a “filter bubble.”

Filter bubbles have existed as long as social media, and it is more essential than ever that you understand how they work. 

Eli Pariser’s famous TED talk from 2011 explains everything you need to know about what filter bubbles are, why they exist, how work, and why they’re so dangerous.

If you ever plan to use Facebook again, watch it first.


"Ok, but how different can filter bubbles really be? Is what I see on Facebook really all that different from what someone else sees?"

Yes, more different than you can imagine.

To get a sense of what I mean, watch Theo Wilson's TED Talk, titled "A black man goes undercover in the alt-right." It clearly articulates the filter bubble problem in terms of real-world consequence.

There's No Escaping the Matrix

Today, filter bubbles can become quite toxic- and they are more dangerous than ever, because it’s more difficult to escape them than ever before.

In the past, when you were watching TV, you could change the channel, and you’d get something different. You’d have different content, with different production values, from a different program manager.

That channel would have different funding sources and different media biases.

As a whole, as long as you clicked around a bit, you’d get a decently balanced range of news and perspectives. Occasionally you'd see weird stuff, but on the whole you'd get to see situations from all sides, and you'd have a pretty clear idea of what's real.

On Facebook. You get ONE channel. It’s called Facebook.

Sure, you can switch to a different group or page. But... it’s still Facebook. Your ads and the content you see will follow you.

“Wait... So now... all restaurants are Taco Bell?”

Tired of it? Switch to Instagram!

Aaaand... that’s still Facebook.

Whatsapp? Nope, still Facebook.

I’ll go to another site then.

I hate to tell you this but... Facebook is watching and tracking you on other websites too. It’s even still delivering Facebook’s ads to you. 

The Matrix has got you. 

Remember that dystopian future in the Demolition Man? Yeah, well, we seem to be headed there fast.


Afterword

The Perfect Storm

From where I’m standing, the intensity of emotion, and the level of social response, seems to be increasing in recent years.

Right now we’re seeing a perfect storm of three things;

  1. A unique global situation that is provoking one of our most primal emotions. Fear. It’s intense.
  2. The Troll problem. Clickbait and dis-information is everywhere, and trolls are cashing in. It looks like news, and scared, angry people are way too willing to believe it unquestioningly.
  3. The Filter bubble problem, which creates our echo chambers. You and everyone you talk to think they are seeing the same “reality.” Because you’re all in the same theatre, watching the same movie.

But what you're seeing is not the real world.

The Earth is round

Most of us chuckle a bit at Flat-earthers, because it’s just so clear that their thinking is warped, and that they just don’t check their facts.

But on some topics, how guilty are we of doing the same thing?

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Technology & Futurism
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SERIES

This article is part of the series 

The Disinformation Pandemic

.

This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

First published on 
. Last updated on 
November 29, 2021

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      References

      Addendum

      References

      Facebook Financials

      Facebook brought in $27.2 billion in ad revenue in Q4 2020.

      Ad revenue makes up nearly all (96.8 percent) of its $28.1 billion revenue for the entire quarter, it’s also a 31 percent year-over-year increase.

      How Ads Follow You

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_retargeting 

      https://www.facebook.com/business/goals/retargeting 

      https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/1752338?hl=en