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Beyond “Filter Bubbles:” Broadening the Scope of Journalism

by Sue Ellen Christian

Journalists’ jobs have become more critical in the online age for many reasons – for curation, verification, and also for magnification. Let me explain.

The most powerful websites online are tailoring their responses to individual users to reflect back what they think those users are most interested in. The days of news outlets telling news consumers what they need to know, as opposed to what they want to know, are well over and have been for some time, thanks to digitalization and the power of the search engine and clicking away from one outlet to another, all for free.

The upshot, however, is that audience members continue to access an increasingly myopic view of the world and its issues, ideas, crises and celebrations. Internet users aren’t getting the full picture of the world via the Internet because the picture is being cropped by the users themselves, albeit inadvertently. Eli Pariser, online activist and thinker, calls the phenomenon a “filter bubble.”

In an interview with Salon’s Lynn Parramore and in his own TED talk, Pariser explains the dangers of how the Web connects us back to ourselves via personalized search results based on our interests. The danger of this is that we never see a version of the world other than the one we already know and presumably, love – we are never challenged to put our attention anywhere other than where we’ve already been.

As Pariser said in his Salon interview, “What it’s looking like increasingly is that the Web is connecting us back to ourselves. There’s a looping going on where if you have an interest, you’re going to learn a lot about that interest. But you’re not going to learn about the very next thing over. And you certainly won’t learn about the opposite view. If you have a political position, you’re not going to learn about the other one.”

In this environment, algorithm-free information sources such as Twitter become all the more essential. “Twitter feeds which are not determined by an opaque corporate algorithms (sic) but my own choices” is how author Zeynep Tufekci put it when writing about the importance of Twitter for calling attention to the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American male, fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer in 2014.

The phenomenon of “filter bubbles” requires that journalists do more to turn audience attention to the little-seen and little-noticed stories of the world. In Chapter 6 of Overcoming Bias, I discuss how journalism has an ethics of attention and urge news reporters to mind their attentional blind spots to keep coverage innovative, interesting and relevant.

To continue to broaden your scope of the world and what is being done in terms of news storytelling and how and why, visit these two innovative sites:
http://www.storybench.org/vision/ and https://medium.com/message.

One Response to “Beyond “Filter Bubbles:” Broadening the Scope of Journalism”

  1. I could not refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!

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