Social-Media Impose “Censorship” Through Recommendions and Filters
Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other media companies have built unbelievably powerful tools for collecting and organizing personal data. They’re developing and perfecting algorithms that track your activities and accumulate repositories of seemingly-trivial social media data.
They know whom you hang out with and what you like. And they can make extraordinarily good deductions about your demographics, social influences, political partisanship, social and economic preferences, and everything else. They’re influencing not just what content you see, but also which sites you visit in the first place.
These companies’ intentions are modest enough: to feed you the news you’re likely to want and to expose you to the kind of products and services you’re likely to respond to. The pages you’re shown are tailored for who you are, where you live, whom you interact with, and what you’ve previously clicked on.
The purveyors of the internet make money from advertising and paid subscriptions. Their goal is stickiness: they need traffic to thrive and prosper. Their success depends on their ability to draw you, keep you longer, and persuade you to return before you choose to leave.
Recommender systems have an enormous influence on the discourse you’re exposed to.
There’s a dangerous consequence here. What you should realize is that Google, Facebook, and Amazon have become gatekeepers of everything you see on the internet. Their content filtering and recommender systems are substituting editorial judgment. They’re not neutral and, given their economic objectives, often serve to amplify your biases.
The problem with filtering and recommender systems is that everybody likes them. The content you’re fed with is, in a sense, an endless stream of affirmations that you’re right—you’ll see more of what you’re interested in and associate with others who share your viewpoints. The consensus view is reinforced—the world seems to agree with you. Everything feels more normal!
On a broader scale, as people converge to likeminded people in virtual neighborhoods, you tend to operate in an intellectual bubble. Left to all these devices of today’s information-consumption patterns, much of your opinions and judgments are subjective, imprecise, incomplete, narrow-minded, or utterly unapprised.
All this has made it difficult for you to seek out contrasting views even if you feel so disposed. When you do venture out, all you’ll see are trolls who get offended by the slightest of disagreements—any attempt to challenge their beliefs is taken as a grievous insult. These trolls resort to bumper sticker-rhetoric, name-calling, demeaning attacks, and ill-informed declarations.
Idea for Impact: There’s Great Value in Listening Carefully and Charitably to Ideological Opponents.
Reach out. Consider alternative world-views that may cause you to philosophize differently. Find well-intentioned, respectful people who can challenge your viewpoints. Associate with ideological challengers who can help you improve your understanding of conflicting perspectives.
In On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not (2008,) neurologist and author Robert Burton argues that certainty is an emotion just like anger, passion, or sorrow. Once you develop a “that’s right” disposition about a subject matter, your brain subconsciously protects you from wasting its processing effort on problems for which it has already found a solution that you believe is good enough, and is continuously reinforced. In other words, your cerebral laziness could subconsciously lead you to “do less” by simply embracing a cast-iron certainty rather than re-examining your assumptions.
Don’t be lazy. Doggedly examine your biases and prejudices.