The New Dilemma of Online Media

In the modern age, it’s easier than it’s ever been to be connected with current events and the world around us. There are millions of websites and countless online news mediums and social media outlets. While this is unquestionably good for education and staying up to date and informed about what’s going on in the world, it comes with large consequences.

Flash back to before the first computers and even television sets when newspapers were the primary news source for the world’s modernized population. While it was certainly not as convenient as cable news and the internet, these newspapers held strict journalistic standards. There was objective reporting, very little bias, and very little polarization between the political right and left. The editors and writers strictly upheld these standards and held each other accountable when they were violated. In summation, what these newspapers lacked in overall efficiency and brevity, they made up for in their journalistic standards that left it up to the readers to interpret the news in their own way instead of trying to lead them to a given conclusion.

Flashing back forward to today, and we are easily the most politically polarized that we’ve ever been in our nation’s history, with no signs of it getting any better anytime soon. I’ve noticed this especially with my (millennial) generation in particular. We are less likely to engage in reasonable debate and discourse, and cannot even tolerate the very mention of certain topics in some cases. Instead of debating topics, we throw vicious insults and retreat into the so called “safe spaces” where we are sheltered from any point of view that challenges our own. This is not good for our future; in fact, it could be disastrous.

I contribute this problem entirely to the Internet & news mediums of the internet. Facebook and Google for example, are where most internet users get their information and news, and both these mediums use something called a Filter Bubble to deliver a very user friendly experience to internet users. A filter bubble is your own unique personal universe of information online that is handed to you by various algorithms the medium employs. For example, following Barack Obama’s Facebook page makes Facebook’s algorithms assume that you are a fan of Obama and therefore a fan of the Democrat party and therefore a fan of liberal Facebook pages. Facebook then will suggest to you that you follow Facebook pages that promote Obama, the Democrat party and the liberal point of view of the news, and if you agree with that point of view, you’ll follow those pages. This may seem perfectly fine, as Facebook is only giving you what you want, but the problem is that you will consistently never see the other side of the story or have your beliefs challenged. This leads to ignorance of the other side, less tolerance for opposing views, & even blatant misinformation.

The obvious danger of the bubbles is that the mediums can begin controlling dialogue and discourse through engineering narratives via algorithm recommendations to the user-something that former Facebook employees have admitted has been going on. And the irony of it all is that we don’t necessarily even want to see some of the things these filter bubbles spit out at us!

These filter bubbles also have effects outside of the Internet. Cable News and Newspapers are now in heated competition with online news mediums that employ these filter bubbles. To keep up with the journalistic standard-less Google and Facebook, Cable News and Newspapers are now ditching the very same standards they created and tightly held on to for decades. The market is telling the industry that they like seeing/reading things that agree with their point of view and as a result there are very few objective and unbiased newspapers and cable news broadcasts left in print and on air. This of course only increases the polarization and makes the problem worse.

The solution to this problem is to either eliminate the filter bubbles altogether, or ceding control of the filter bubble to the individual users of the internet medium. Without the bubble, users would be forced to search for news themselves (oh no!), which could lead them to a huge variety of sources rather than just a select few that are determined to completely align with the user. This way, a sort of objectivity is returned that gives the user both sides of the story. Ceding control of the filter bubbles to the user would remove the possibility of the medium from purposefully exploiting the algorithms to engineer political thought and discourse, and the user could pick definitively what they want to see instead of the algorithm picking what it assumes the user wants to see.

If we fail to solve this problem, we can only expect everything to get worse. Less tolerance, less exposure, more sectionalism, more extreme intolerance.

The filter bubble as seen in Eli Pariser’s podcast.

Sources: https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en

https://www.scribd.com/document/19499595/Canons-of-Journalism-ASNE-Code-of-Ethics-1922

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