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A Filter Bubble and The Effect on Our Democracy

We live in the Internet of Things (IoT) era, which means that what we do right now is connected and exchanged with the system over the internet. We use the internet most of the day. Even some of us couldn't live without that matrix. We live in the network. We consume data every day, false or the right one. The thing to realize is that our daily consumption of data and information freely doesn't come with an empty hand. This fact brings us to the question: Is the information we consume daily is the fact that we need?

Let me introduce you to something you have already been affected by, but maybe you don't know yet. It's Filter Bubble.

A filter bubble is an environment where people are exposed only to opinions and information that conform to their existing beliefs. At first, this environment brings us happiness. We may think that "the internet understands me!" but as a democratic society, this is a problem to our objectiveness to judge or value something.

A democratic country has a democratic citizens. To be democratic citizens, we have to value something objectively. A democratic system is a system where everyone has a right to express themselves, has a right to speak, and does something that doesn't forbid by the constitution and other norms freely. So that we should have the skill to filter the information where everyone has a microphone, and all the internet platforms become a speaker. But, the filter bubble left us out of options.

A Filter Bubble makes media content is increasingly personalized.

What’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are and it depends on what you do. But you don’t decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out. — Eli Pariser, Internet Activist.

Internet algorithms filter out reality. For instance, the High-Level Expert Group on Media Diversity and Pluralism, an independent group advising the European Commission, warned for the impact of filter bubble on our democratic society:

Increasing filtering mechanisms make it more likely for people to only get news on subjects they are interested in and the perspective they identify with. There are benefits in empowering individuals to choose what information they want to obtain and by whom. But there are also risks. This new reality will decrease the role of media as editors and interpreters of information. It will also create more insulated communities as isolated subsets within the overall public sphere. (…) Such developments undoubtedly have a potentially negative impact on democracy.

In sum, people would encounter fewer opinions, harming the public sphere and the democratic opinion-forming process. In a similar vein, the Council of Europe warned that the ordering and ranking of information in the context of search engines could affect information access and the diversity of information people are exposed to. In brief, people's opinions might be steered by personalized media, while they are not aware of being influenced.

At present, there is no empirical evidence that warrants any intense worries about filter bubbles. Nevertheless, the debate about filter bubbles is essential. Personalization on news sites is still at an infant stage. Personalized content does not constitute a substantial information source for most citizens. However, if personalization technology improves and personalized news content becomes people's primary information source, problems for our democracy could indeed arise.

So, is the internet really "free"?

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Ramdhan Prawira

Ramdhan Prawira

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