Kenney: ‘Filter Bubble’ causes bias Internet searches

Without your knowledge, you have been trapped in a bubble of information, warping your view of the world into something completely different from those around you. Your Facebook, Twitter, and search history have been harvested to personalize the Internet you experience, shutting out millions of voices completely. There is no more objective truth on the Internet, once the ultimate tool of democratic citizens, only a truth that is tame, user-friendly, and dangerously isolated.

Life in the modern world is defined by the speed at which it moves. Anyone who isn’t in the loop is miles behind the pack. As an avid participator, I can attest to how easy it is to get caught up in the flow of information. Without even thinking, I accept top results on Google as definite truth, and treat most Tweets as true until proven otherwise.

Such naiveté caught up with me when I believed the tweets reporting that my math professor had been awarding extra credit for simply showing up to class. After three weeks of unfailing attendance and no bonus points to show for it, I grew skeptical. Although I should have been going anyway, it was frustrating that I had been so easily manipulated by a bunch of hearsay. This sent me on a search for the search.

Eli Pariser, CEO of and founder of a number of viral websites, gave a lecture in 2011 about something he called “The Filter Bubble.” Search engines are using what we click on and what we type to individualize our results, tailoring them to our favorite color, political lean, and what we find funny. With such a vast wealth of information gathered in the Internet, it seems like a necessity. No one, least of all me, is ready to trawl through thousands of web pages to find out why Seal is wearing neon-blue pants with an olive-green shirt. I honestly didn’t care enough about the information I received to spend more than a few minutes looking for it. It ideally would be a top priority for all of us to labor out the purest and least-biased information available, but there is just not enough time in the day for most of us.

There are a number of problems with the filter bubble that plague just about every internet user. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy released a report entitled “Search Engines and Ethics” that digs deep into the implications that information manipulation have for the everyday user. It reported on the various algorithms that engines like Google use, based on our Facebook profiles, Youtube history, and even the locations we are searching from. For the liberal-minded college boy, it means that most of my search results are crowded with Huffington Post and Daily Kos articles about healthcare and economic reform and leave out the opposition, basically without my knowledge. To the casual observer, it would seem that only the progressives are taking the time to even write about the issues.

This is unhealthy for our worldviews and even worse for the democracy we live in. The filter bubble has collapsed our world into bite-sized but incorrect pieces. How can two citizens or politicians attempt to discuss the issues of the day if they have been informed of completely polarized truths? These types of misunderstandings between political parties have led to hate and confusion, completely obstructing progress. But we can account for this information manipulation.

Next time you make a Google search, check for a small pair of boxes in the top right corner and click on the one with the globe. This unlabeled and inconspicuous option turns off personal settings and gives you the closest thing to an unbiased search possible. When reading your news online, realize the filter bubble you’re reading through, go out of your way to consider an opposing view. Small changes like these can affect our political discourse and help spur other, larger shifts.

So go out and find why Seal wore such a mismatched suit. And please let me know soon because it’s really starting to get to me.

Kenney is a freshman majoring in political science and journalism from Shawnee.

Dylan Lysen is a senior from Andover majoring in journalism. Read more from .

  • Updated Dec. 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm