Andrea Ruiz Valencia, Nele Pärje, Maxime Paquin, Jija Bhattacharya, Alice Masoni, Christos Kampolis
The Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy aims to overcome the fragmentation of the European market and merge 28 markets into a single digital economy. To prepare the digital grounds for the DSM to flourish, several obstacles need to be tackled, one of which revolves around the personalization of the Internet. There is a disturbing phenomenon in the way online platforms operate today, notably the way algorithms predict and select content we want to consume.
Does a Filter Bubble limit the diversity of our Content Consumption?
Thanks to algorithms, our perception of the web has become a personalized experience tailored to our taste and viewpoints amidst the plethora of content available online. Whereas this may enhance our search for relevant content, it also limits the diversity of the content we consume online, thus creating filter bubbles. A filter bubble is an algorithmic bias that skews or limits the information an individual user sees on the Internet. This bias is caused by the weighted algorithms that search engines, social media and marketers use to personalize user experience.
Algorithms continuously feed consumers content they either engage or agree with, however they do not take into consideration the complexity of human beings. We need diversity not only to have a holistic understanding of a specific issue but also to engage in discussions with people who hold different views. This is something that algorithms are neglecting as we are becoming increasingly isolated in our bubbles. There is an ironic element to this, considering the potential online platforms must provide diverse sources of information and discussions.
This problematic issue happened automatically, no one chose to be in a filter bubble. Algorithms should help users make sense of the abundance of information online and not dictate what they “think” we deem relevant.
The Modern-Day Gatekeepers
Algorithms act as our modern gatekeepers and a substantial portion of the population seems to prefer algorithmic news selection over editorial news selection (Newman & al., 2017). Surprisingly, there seems to be a divergence of opinions between researchers and policymakers on the possible effects of filter bubbles. While some perceive them as a potential threat to democracy, others feel that this issue has been overly exaggerated and that filter bubbles are, to a certain extent, harmless. The disparity between these two perspectives highlights the need for further research on the subject.
As we increasingly rely on online platforms to inform us, we should ask ourselves some fundamental questions on the nature of contemporary news consumption and distribution: How dangerous is it that we tend to prefer algorithms over humans as gatekeepers? Do we truly understand what effects filter bubbles have on our understanding of the world? Should the EU treat content diversity online as seriously as Fake News or the GDPR? What steps need to be taken to ensure a better functioning of online personalization, and therefore avoid filter bubbles in the first place?
The impact of algorithms on the Digital Single Market
As Europe’s Digital Single Market takes shape, it will be interesting to witness how far the European Union is willing to go to ensure people have more control over the content they visualize and what algorithms offer them across various online platforms. How challenging is it going to be to confront the giants of Facebook and Google who have their roots in a capitalist society and ensure that consumers in a Digital Single Market have the power to make humane decisions over machines? To what extent can the EU policy-making process respond or even anticipate future challenges when facing these tech companies?
Gather with us in understanding how the DSM is taking such issues into account on the 24th of April 2018 with Siada El Ramly – Director General of EDiMA, the European trade association representing online platforms and the platform ecosystems.
Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Kalogeropoulos, A., Levy, D., & Nielsen, R. K. (2017). Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 (pp. 1-136, Rep.). Oxford: Reuters.