Author: Martha Villabona works at Centro Nacional de Innovación e Investigación Educativa (CNIIE) of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, where she coordinates the area of multiple literacies
When we perform Google searches, most of us assume that we all see the same results and that the first ones to appear are the most relevant from links to other pages. However, this is not the case. Since 2009, Google’s algorithm has provided results that are better for you. This personalization of pre-selected and implicit information from the Internet is called “bubble filter” by Pariser 1. Specifically, the term describes how Internet search engines work. They analyze individual data points and create different sets of information that present each individual. This may mean that people’s beliefs, whether false or not, persist because they do not find other information that makes them think otherwise, i.e. search engines do not help you change your mind because they offer you the personalized information. There is a extreme consequence of the bubble filter that is the echo chamber. This occurs when you are exposed to the same information over and over again reinforcing and amplifying your beliefs without any information to counteract them.
Despite the above, the choice of media is wide variable and this allows people to access a variety of media and information sources that offer different perspectives. Apart from digital news environments, traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers can also promote bubble filtering or create echo chambers; however the Internet makes it easier for both phenomena to persist, even though it is also the space where the most diverse information is offered.
There are a number of factors that influence the existence of the bubble filter such as personality, demographic variables (age and gender) and ideology. This has been demonstrated by a study 2 that analyzed the influence of these factors in the decision about which and how many news sources were used to obtain information. For this reason, the authors conducted a survey of 1681 people, 557 men and 1124 women, aged between 12 and 81, to check that the number of news sources consumed and the consumption of online news is associated with the persistence of the bubble filter and echo chambers. In terms of ideology, the study proposes to analyse the ideological attitude of right-wing authoritarianism in which people tend to adhere to conventional values; they are submissive to the group’s authorities and do not tolerate people transgressing conventional values. It seems plausible that people with this ideology engage in selective consumption of news. To assess aspects of personality, the authors used Goldberg’s 5-factor model: extroversion (extroverted character), agreeableness (altruistic and cooperative), conscientiousness (organized, persistent), neuroticism (anxious, worried, emotionally unstable), and openness to experience (curious and self-awareness).
Regarding news sources, participants were asked if they watched television, read the printed press, listened to the radio or went to online news websites and social networks. Regarding news sources, they were asked how often they watched or read. Once the survey was completed, participants were divided into three groups. One group consisted of participants who only used news feeds from social networking sites; another group consisted of those who used news channels from social networks and online news websites and the last group only used offline news channels.
The results of the study were that age correlated significantly with the number of news sources consumed in total: higher age, higher Conscientiousness, and lower Neuroticism. In relation to gender, it was showed to be higher in men as well as openness. However, the ideology was negative because participants only use news sources that support their beliefs. Similarly, the group that only consumed news on offline channels had higher scores on accountability and lower scores on neuroticism compared to the other two groups. With regard to the neuroticism factor, anxious and concerned people tend to consume only online news and are therefore more likely to get caught up in the filter bubble and echo chambers.
This study has limitations, but it supports the results of other studies that indicate that extroversion, conscientiousness, gender and age are associated with the probability of reading news only on social networks with the consequent risk of ending up in a bubble or echo chamber or not.
Most people do not know what kind of information is collected and analyzed about them on the Internet, and each of them may be living in their own personalized bubble (Pariser, 2011). When we put a certain TV channel, we are making a decision about which information filter we want to use. However, we do not make a decision when custom filters are in place on the Internet. According to the results of the study, we should consult different sources if we want to obtain truthful and objective information and not get stuck in the bubble filter.
- Pariser E., The filter bubble: what the internet is hiding from you. Penguin, UK (2011). ↩
- Sinderman C., Elhai J., Moshagen M. & Montag Ch. (2020). Age, gender, personality, ideological attitudes and individual differences in a person’s news spectrum: how many and who might be prone to “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers” online? Helyon, 6 (1). doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03214 ↩