Escaping the News Filter Bubble: Three Simple Steps

Spoiler: Reduce the amount of information big providers have about you

By Published on September 28, 2019

In a post on mindmatters.ai last week, I discussed the “filter bubble” — the way we may only hear certain news, presented a certain way. Over time, these unnoticed bubbles form ever more effective barriers against alternative information, maybe information you need to know.

Today, let’s talk about how to escape the filter bubble. When you need to make the best decisions, whether about products, politics, worldview, or anything else, how can you find out what the search engines, online retailers, and social media sites are not telling you?

Here are three things you can at least think about doing today without making any other changes:

Broaden Your News Diet — RSS Feed Over Social Media

First, the best place to begin is, stop getting your news primarily from social media. In fact, stop getting your news from any major news organization. Instead, use an RSS feed service, like feedly, to watch what tens or hundreds of sites publish. Once you have lots of options, vary your sources so that you receive information from local and national organizations and sites. Intentionally choose sources that are domestic or international, and choose from a wide range of viewpoints.

This not only helps you get out of the filter bubble, it also reduces the power of large news organizations and centralized services. It places at least some of that power back into the hands of sites run by smaller organizations and individuals, who are often closer to a scene and have a more informed perspective.

Once you have started using a wider variety of news sources, choose a small set of writers or sites, and read everything that’s by these authors or new on these sites. In this way, you can push yourself to read things you do not agree with. Your “news diet” will be broader and healthier, which helps break bubbles you may have been living in (without knowing it).

Use Privacy-Focused Search Engines

The second point to work on is search engine habits. Don’t use the same search engine all the time. It is good to get in the habit of using a privacy-focused search engine, like duckduckgo or swisscows. Privacy-focused search not only reduces the amount of information you are “leaking” to the large providers, they also do not shape their search results based on what they know about you. This, again, can help you find things you might not otherwise find, reducing the effect of the filter bubble.

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Further, change your search engine every so often, so you can see the results of different algorithms. Search engines were created by people so each engine will have a different emphasis and hence will sometimes produce different results.

Go Beyond The First Page of Results

Finally, click on the second page. Most people scan the search results from the top of the first page to the bottom, stopping when they find the result they think will best answer their question. Search engine operators know this so they place the results they would prefer you to click on earlier in the search results. Either they are sponsored results that the engine makes money on when you click or buy, or the results that more closely align with their worldview (or political view).

The less they know, the less they will succeed at shaping the information you see.

The more you get into the habit of going to the second, third, and deeper pages, the more you will see information that you would not otherwise see. Hence the more you are breaking out of your filter bubble. Along the same lines, you can intentionally look deeper into the search results on online retailers.

The Main Thing …

There are many other tricks and techniques you can use to get out of your filter bubble and start seeing the things the large, centralized providers, retailers, and social media sites do not want you to see.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, though, is to reduce the amount of information these large providers have about you. You don’t need to tell them all that. The less they know, the less they will succeed at shaping the information you see.

 

Russ White has spent the last 30 years designing, building, and breaking computer networks. Across that time he has co-authored 42 software patents, 11 technology books, more than 20 hours of video training, and several Internet standards. He holds CCIE 2635, CCDE 2007:001, the CCAr, an MSIT from Capella University, an MACM from Shepherds Theological Seminary, and is currently working on a PhD in apologetics and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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