ELISE HU, HOST:
The internet's original purpose was to be an open and democratic way of getting information. But computer algorithms, like the kind Facebook and Netflix use, steer us to the type of stuff we already know and like. As a result, says Eli Pariser, it's harder to be exposed to other ideas and viewpoints. Pariser is the author of "The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You." He's also the CEO of the news website Upworthy. I asked him to explain what he means by a filter bubble.
ELI PARISER: Increasingly, you know, every website has a sense of who you are, of what your interests are, and many of them are using that information to try to extrapolate what kinds of content, what kinds of articles, what kinds of ideas are you going to be most interested in. So the filter bubble is the ideas that get through that filter and that you get to see. And what's scary about it is there's a bunch of stuff outside of that filter that gets filtered out and that you don't see.
HU: We're talking to you about this now 'cause obviously it's a heated election year, and a lot of us are sort of just seeing opinions and stories that tend to echo our own views in our news feeds. How does this happen?
PARISER: Well, what most algorithms are trying to do is to increase engagement, to increase the amount of attention you're spending on that platform. And so it makes sense that they're looking to share with you articles that they think you're going to like, they think you're going to want to read, that they think you're going to want to share. There's a lot of good to that. You know, there's too much to read, and having algorithms do some of the work of figuring out what we see is helpful. But the danger is that increasingly, you end up not seeing what people who think differently see and, in fact, not even knowing that it exists.
HU: So what were you seeing specifically that reflected your preferences really strongly, politically?
PARISER: So it's not the known knowns, it's the unknown unknowns, to use Donald Rumsfeld's phrase. What was worrying to me was I realized at some point, oh, I'm not seeing anything from a conservative point of view. And that can't be right because there are a lot of conservative people in this country. And so I am getting a seriously warped view of the world.
And I hear this from certainly more progressive folks all the time this year, which is I don't know a single Trump supporter. I don't see a single person arguing for Trump. That's a problem because this is a country where, you know, even if the current polls are correct, 4 out of 10 people are voting for Trump. And so it illustrated to me the importance of finding a way to build media that does bridge some of those divides.
HU: Walk us through this. So if I want to bust out of my own filter bubble, you know, and I'm a Republican and I want to get a sense of what's going on on the Democratic side, what do I do? What are the steps I can take?
PARISER: Mechanically, I think following on Facebook or on Twitter some voices of either publications or individuals that are on the other side, you know, is a good first step. But I think it's worth saying, like, there's the algorithmic side of this and then there's a behavioral side which is, like, I may follow someone but do I really want to listen to them?
And I think the best advice there is to find people who do kind of make sense to you, who are helping you bridge into that community and who you want to engage with because I think these algorithms are very good at seeing are you following someone but never listening to them or are you actively engaging and talking to them? And so for me, one of the best things has been actually seeking out and finding folks who don't think like me who I'm genuinely interested in as people and as thinkers.
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