Caught in a filter bubble

Last Updated : 21 November 2016, 18:34 IST

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The country seems to be polarised over demonetisation and its after-effects. And more likely than not, you’ve had plenty of news stories to read that corroborate what you believe, regardless of whether you think the scrapping of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes was an ingenious plan or not, especially if you get most of your news on social media.

However, does the news you’re consuming give you a clear picture of everything going on around you or is it merely helping you live in your own bubble? This has become a hot topic of discussions post the US Presidential elections, with Facebook also coming under fire for it.

Social media sites in particular and the internet in general have been serving people stories that put forth points of view they largely agree with. “This is a phenomenon called the social media filter bubble,” says Rohini Lakshane, programme officer, Centre for Internet and Society. This means that because most people in your network think like you, what you read mostly concurs with your opinions, reinforces your bias, reducing your chances of coming across opposing viewpoints, she explains. “It’s all-pervasive, Twitter also tailors your feeds and the ‘while you were away’ section, unless you uncheck it in your settings,” she says. Using incognito mode for Google searches and clearing cookies are a couple of other steps you could take to check this filter bubble, she adds.

“As someone into policy research, I can’t let my personal prejudices affect what I read or understand,” she offers. “So I also ensure I constantly interact with people from different walks of life.” Keeping an open mind to multiple perspectives could help people remain more informed, she suggests.

Entrepreneur Devashish Mamgain says he makes a conscious effort to search for stories he knows he wouldn’t agree with. “I do this because I’m already up to date with what I like or support, and I think it’s important to know the other side as well,” he says. He doesn’t rely on social media for his news but knows many who do and thinks it limits their knowledge.

Savitha A Isaac, a content writer, says she unsubscribes to newsfeeds on Facebook she doesn’t want to read. “I get annoyed when it shows up what’s trending — videos and memes that are going viral. I feel most of this is US-centric; almost like it’s telling us we have to care about what’s happening there. My husband and I have noticed that Google keeps tabs on what you’re searching for and comes up with suggestions,” she says. This is also true of Facebook.

“I usually read a lot of investigative and feminist stories from certain sites. And when such links pop up as suggestions on your wall — or is reflected in the adds you see — it feels really nice. But it also feels wrong,” she says. “It’s creepy, almost as if someone’s stalking you.”

Uroosa Ayman Fathima, her colleague, believes most content on social media is not accurate. “I only click on a link if it’s that of a news website I trust to be at least 80 per cent accurate,” she says. And she verifies what catches her interest with news in the print media, a more credible source, she believes.
Published 21 November 2016, 17:39 IST

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