The internet, as a result of continuing innovation, is a neighborhood of bubbles – each bubble devoted to a viewpoint and totally isolated. This is to be expected, like-minded people are naturally going to gather. However, the problem isn’t that they are gathering, the problem is that they’re in an echo chamber.
The internet has become personalized to each user and their viewing habits. Simply put, your browsing history and cookies act as a sort of interest survey. If you frequently visit websites related to one political group, movement, or cause, your search results will begin to reflect that. In 2011, Researcher Eli Pariser carried out an experiment in Egypt whereby two friends conducted a simple internet search for the term “Egypt.” One of them got tourism information, the other got protest information – their search results were dictated by their previous internet search history. The Google algorithm is such that your prior searches dictate your future results. Thus, the search results for “Hillary Clinton” would be vastly different depending on who searched. A supporter would find one set of results, an alt-righter would find a different set, both sets of respective results supporting their existing views and history.
This personalized narrowing of the internet is convenient for us; having to sort through quite literally millions of websites to find one in your wheelhouse would be very tedious. However, in the quest for ease and a streamlined internet experience, we have fortified our bubbles. These impenetrable information traps feed us only what we already want and believe. As such, these algorithms reinforce biases and misinformation. Falsities, conjecture, and gossip are able to circulate in this environment. Worse still, conspiracy theories thrive because those susceptible to them are delivered them readily. The conspiracy bubble is well-supplied with loosely spun theories.
A great deal of our internet woes as a society come from our own behavior, but in this case, our behaviors are being fueled by this self-serving algorithm. Yes, it’s all very convenient to be shown only what you want to see but it’s also dangerous and unrealistic. You’re going to see things you don’t want to see, such is life. By curating one’s own internet experience to never stray too far from the bubble, we only widen the divide between warring factions and leave meaningful debates hopelessly stalled. This convenient, personalized algorithm serves as a validation machine for your own personal beliefs, and once again, the internet traffics in isolation.