I have been interested in the role of Google, Facebook and Twitter, among others, in exacerbating the echo chamber effect for some time. Every day I read more news stories linked from my Facebook and Twitter feeds and less linked directly from mainstream news sources (NYTimes, GlobeandMail, etc.). The algorithms that Google and Facebook use to tailor my results profoundly affect my perspective on the world yet I know very little about how they work.
I was confronted by one particularly surprising example of the effects of these algorithms when a friend, who was logged into Google, searched simply for Toronto, and one of my tweets mentioning the city was amongst the first hits. Google took into consideration that I was on his contact list and dramatically modified his search results.
There are a multitude of incredible TED talks but I found this widely circulated talk particularly thought-provoking as it raises a number of fundamental problems facing those of us whose news sources are almost exclusively online and dominated by various forms of social media and web searches. In this talk, Eli Pariser describes how every time we click our mouse we are facilitating the shaping of our media-sphere by Google or Facebook through invisible algorithmic editing.
Recently their manipulation has been trending in the wrong direction. As Pariser points out, we are seeing more of what we want to see, more of what’s easy to take in and less of whats good for us, less material that is difficult or challenging. I agree with Pariser’s conclusion that search engines and social media need to code journalistic integrity and civic responsibility into their algorithms, returning more control to us over our perspective, even if this means less personalization.