I just came back from a quite interesting evening in Berlin. Wikimedia Germany has invited Saskia Sell and me to discuss about Eli Pariser´s Filter Bubble as part of their series Digitale Kompetenzen (in German). Saskia started by reminding us that information filtering is nothing new as we have always depended on gatekeepers and our own filter mechanisms and individual biases. We both agreed that Pariser´s book is highly techno-deterministic and I also pointed out that first studies on personalization in search engine results do not support his fear of becoming trapped in personalized information bubbles. However, I do believe that a naive use of search engines might get users into bubbles of one-sided information. As an example, I pointed to the research I did with Erik Borra on how 9/11 has been represented at Google over time. We found that the query “9/11” lead mostly to sites representing alternative (“conspiracy”) accounts of the attacks until Google rolled out its Panda update. This change of the algorithm apparently worked in favor for sites representing the “mainstream” version of the event.
I was very happy about the pretty engaged audience which helped to create lively discussions (partly also on Twitter under #digikompz). One of the key points was that the opaque algorithms which filter our information should become more transparent and that their users need a specific form of literacy to deal with them in a constructive way. Wikimedia Germany´s Digikompz-series is a good step in that direction as it exactly aims at educating the public about the pitfalls of digital communication. There is one more event coming up which I can only recommend. It will be streamed live and can also be watched afterwards. Also our evening on the Filter Bubble can be re-watched here: