Should Social Media Companies Burst Filter Bubbles? : A Jumble of Thoughts

I have conflicting ideas about this topic. I usually have conflicting ideas about anything in my life, head versus heart. But this topic really has me on the fence between two sides.

I love social media. I love reading about things that interest me, connecting with those who think similarly the way I do, finding these communities that have similar passions and interests as I do. Why wouldn’t I want to be in these ‘bubbles’ of things that interest me, that excite me, that are what I want to see? I purposely follow all these blogs and sources and people because of what they post. I have curated my feed to see things I enjoy, and see no shame in that. I think that expecting people to completely burst their filter bubbles places could place too much social responsibility on people’s shoulders. Why can’t they enjoy what they want to enjoy?

But on the other hand, I follow plenty of political sources. I am aware of arguments on both the Left and the Right. Even though I align as Liberal/Democratic, I still see some Conservative arguments, absorb them, and then reaffirm my own personal beliefs. My filter bubble is not so exclusive to letting in ideas that only affect me. I follow many people who have different experiences, backgrounds than me who post about their lives and the issues that face them. I can’t ever fully feel what they feel, but I hope in my reading of their posts I can at least listen with no judgment and support them in any way they wish. But there are people who with their filter bubbles have made their ‘bubble’ out of bricks; nothing can break through. Sometimes things slip through the cracks in my curated filter bubble, posts from my Conservative friends, a Fox News clip on my newsfeed, things I wouldn’t normally see, but when I do, listen and then move along. But it’s where people’s bubbles’ are made of stone that concerns me. If you never see the other side of the fence, how do you know what’s there? How do you ever meet your neighbor, and maybe understand that they are human beings just like you, even though they may be different in a number of ways?

So where do companies like Facebook come in? They are a business, and want to please their customers by creating algorithms and strategies that give users the content they want to see. Why would they want to risk that customer satisfaction by strategically placing opposing content in their feeds? But does Facebook have a social responsibility, an obligation to burst filter bubbles? I don’t know. I personally don’t think so. They aren’t government owned, there’s no governing body placing this duty on their shoulders.

I think that Facebook takes the stance that social responsibility comes from consumers. That’s where I think I ultimately stand on this issue. It’s up to individual consumers to burst their own filter bubbles. It’s hard, and not always comfortable, but sometimes it can be eye-opening. But this doesn’t mean to put yourself or your ideas in harms way. If you are attacked for being yourself in a filter bubble that delegitimizes you and your experiences, you have every right to stay as far far away from that bubble as possible.

In real life, offline, you would have to do something similar, in terms of bursting your filter bubble. You may have to read different newspapers, or watch different television programs, or talk to different people. It takes some effort in real life, just like it would online. You have to choose to listen to others at times.

I feel jumbled up about this situation. I sway from side to side, thinking that yes, you should have the right to see what you want, but, shouldn’t we also listen to others? I think there’s many problems and questions that need to be asked to come to a greater conclusion. I think that this debate of whether filter bubbles should be burst by companies will become greater and discussed more as our views and ideas and politics becomes more digitized than ever before.

To self-evaluate, I drew a diagram of what I presume my filter bubble is like. It is always good to have some reflection on what content you’re consuming while spending hours online. It also pretty much sums up most of my personality.