Be Aware of Filter Bubbles!

What is a filter bubble:

A filter bubble is the intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption. 

https://www.techopedia.com/definition/28556/filter-bubble

Consider these two scenarios:

  1. When stressed, I like to listen to or watch things that don’t require me to think. Recently, I’ve been overindulging in reality TV, just because of my higher than usual stress levels. Consequently, this behavior has wreaked havoc on my Netflix, Spotify and YouTube accounts. Now all I see is self-help, reality TV or gossip recommendations on these services, my own hell of a filter bubble. Breaking free from this is relatively easy, but takes time. All I need to do is to start watching shows and listen to podcasts that are not about reality TV, and after a while the algorithm will pick up on my new pattern and we are back to normal.
  2. I have noticed that my recommendation pages on Netflix, Spotify and YouTube ( and any other service that provides personalized content) is very different than my husband’s. So, whenever I get bored with my own personalized content, I go and see what is on his recommendation page. This is how I break free of my filter bubble.

So far, there is no issue. I am aware of the filter bubble I am in and I can make informed decisions to get out of the bubble and explore the outsides. An issue arises when the user is not aware that they are being fed, on a daily basis, a personalized set of contents. Because, when you are not aware, in your mind, there is nothing to break free, no issue to fix. In this sense, personalized contents create filter bubbles, and filter bubbles act as echo chambers. They echo what a user likes, as often and as long as the user likes, without the user noticing it.1

As an example, take teenage girls who follow influencers on instagram. We’ve all heard about how toxic this can be and there has been some movement in the influencer community to not only show the perfect moments but also talk about difficult times and not so perfect times, you know, just to balance things out.

One place that I think filter bubbles are very harmful and detrimental to the user, is when the user is dealing with a mental health issue. Imagine my scenario 1: When stressed I watch reality TV. but stress does not come close to what user with anxiety and/or depression is experiencing. These users are at risk. Just imagine a user with severe depression getting stuck in a dark filter bubble that echos what they want to hear. I do not recommend this, but if you take a quick look at topics discussed on subreddit r/depression, you will see that this bubble indeed can be very dark. Now imagine getting stuck in that echo chamber. The chances are that breaking free of this bubble may be the last thing on the user’s mind.

To be clear, I am not against filter bubbles, not at all. They have their uses. What I am trying to emphasize is the necessity of education on this subject, so that the users make informed decision when exposing themselves to these bubbles.

[1] http://real.mtak.hu/127612/1/ijsrp-p11513.pdf <–[recommended reading]

[2] A great analysis from Wall Street Journal: How TikTok Figures Out Your Deepest Desires

[3] watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix

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