Filter Bubble & Echo Chamber: Why They’re a Problem & How to Avoid Them

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If you use social media, you might have come across the term filter bubbles. Even if you haven’t, you’d have heard of echo chambers.

What if I tell you that a filter bubble can distort reality, and an echo chamber amplify that?

So, what are filter bubbles and echo chambers?

Filter Bubble & Echo Chamber: Why They’re a Problem & How to Avoid Them

We’re all familiar with the saying: Reality is subjective.

Depending on how one sees the world, the reality might just be different between you and me.

For example, if you see a man running after a woman; one might see it as a lover’s quarrel while another could think that it’s a crime in action.

And with social media platforms, a “filter bubble” which affects millions of people around the world is formed.

Now, before you think that the filter bubble is innocuous, just remember:

It’s this filter bubble that helped Donald Trump become the President of the United States for four long years.

The scariest part? A 2015 poll revealed that less than 40% of us are aware of this bubble.

Here’s everything you need to know about the online filter bubble that’ll make you part of the 40%. P.s: No, I’m not talking about GE.

If you prefer to watch a video about filter bubbles instead, watch this video to the end then:

How Social Media Created Filter Bubbles

Here’s a fact: Social media is no longer about social.

A long, long time ago, social media is about friends. You follow your friends, and you see their posts on your feed.

However, as time passes, these platforms got smarter.


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Based on how you use their platform, they get to know you. Sometimes, even more than you know yourself.

Here’s an example:

You have 500 friends. However, when you see friends posing with their cats, you stopped a mite bit longer.

With this data, the social media platform knows that you like cats.

Then, after comparing you with tens of thousands of cat lovers on their platform, they deduce that you like girls between the age of 17 to 28 years old who wears glasses.

And all of a sudden, you are now seeing posts from 20 friends who are glasses-wearing girls between the age of 17 to 28 years old.

So you go to social media and it appears that everyone is agreeing with your views. Watch this video to the end and you’d realise that there’s a disturbing reason behind this:

As for the remaining 480 friends, even if they’re posting relevant and interesting things, you might just miss them out.

In other words, the social media platform is now showing you what you want to see, and not what you should be seeing, distorting your reality.

Reinforcement of Your Distorted Reality Through a Filter Bubble

Now, comes the next question: is 20 enough?


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Chances are, it isn’t. At least it won’t make you stay on the platform long enough.

So what the social media platform does, is instead of showing you your remaining 480 friends, they search for profiles on the social media database which suits your preference.

Filter bubble formed.

Using the same example above, that means girls aged 17 to 28 years old, toting glasses.

The platform will then push posts from these members to you because to the platform, this is what you’re interested in.


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Now, if that sounds familiar, that’s because it is.

Personalised Ads is Just Like Filter Bubbles

If you remember how online ads work, you’d know that they look at your browsing habits and links you’ve clicked on to deduce your preferences, needs and habits.

Let’s say you stay in Yishun and you search for bubble tea online often, chances are, you’re going to see ads from a certain tiger brand or fish brand often.

Social media platform uses similar technology to decipher your personality and needs but there’s one key difference:

The ones used by social media is more dangerous.


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After all, the online ads that you see are demarcated clearly as ads while for online social media posts, they’re not.

So we’ll tend to believe in them more.

Complicated? Don’t worry, we break it down for you.

Offline Filter Bubbles

Filter bubbles appear in the offline world too.

For example, if your surname is Lee and you stay in a home with ten different bathrooms, you might think that 99.99% of people in Singapore are rich and our old grandmothers love to exercise and earn money on the side.


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However.

Offline filter bubbles can be easily broken.

Guys just need to go into National Service and serve with people from all walks of life or take a walk around the poorer estates to know that their version of reality is flawed.

For online filter bubbles, however, things aren’t that clear cut.

Online Filter Bubbles

Imagine this: there’s this guy who hates the government.


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Because of his “interest”, all he sees on his feed are anti-government sentiments.

Even posts from opposition political members can reach him on his feed despite him not following them.

Gradually, he’ll believe that almost everyone in Singapore hates the government and the opposition will win by a landslide in the next election.

And when that didn’t happen, he’ll assume foul play.

After all, how can the ruling party win when everyone hates them, right?


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You can watch this video that showcases how three people who’re trapped in their filter bubbles interacted with each other:

Cross-Platform Reinforcement

If you think that’s the worse, think again.

Let’s look at the example from above.

Imagine you’re the pervert man who’s been shown pretty glass-wearing girls aged between 17 and 28 years old.


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Based on Facebook alone, you probably think 70 to 80% of Singapore girls look like that.

But what happens if you go to YouTube, TikTok and Instagram?

You’ll still be shown pretty glass-wearing girls aged between 17 and 28 years old because whatever you do on these platforms will probably indicate the same interest.

You’ll probably imagine that only 1 out of 10,000 girls won’t look like that.

Of course, that’s an extreme example but you get what I mean.


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Examples of Filter Bubbles

Let’s use two different examples to illustrate the above points.

First, TikTok.

If you’re working in an office, just go around and ask what they think people do on TikTok.

Some would say they show off their pets while another could say trendy dances.

Based on their interests, their “reality” of what people do on TikTok will be distorted.


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Second, Google.

Get you and your friend to Google search for the same term.

For example, “handsome boys”.

Chances are, you’ll probably see different results.

If one is a Korean drama addict, you’ll see handsome Oppas like Song Joong Ki, Daniel Kang or Lee Dong Wook.


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However, if one is someone who follows western pop, you might come across images of Harry’s ass, Justin Bieber of Luther King Jr.

That’s because your Google search results are also based on your profile in the Google database.

In short, reality still distorted, and you’re still trapped in that filter bubble.

Ways to Avoid Filter Bubbles

As previously mentioned, many of us are still unaware that we’re in this bubble, much less the fact that their reality is being distorted.

And this is going to get worse as more people use the internet.

The very first thing you’d need to do to avoid filter bubbles is to know its existence: don’t be fooled into thinking that the Internet is reflecting reality. It isn’t.

Also, get off the internet and step into the real world to look at reality. Unless you live in the Matrix, no one can distort the real reality.

And the other way? To question everything you read online.

After all, as Goody Feed likes to say, don’t trust anything you see online fully.

Or you might just end up scammed out of lots of money.

So simply put, draw a line between the online world and the offline world.

Filter bubbles might be a big problem now, but with a little bit of knowledge, there might be some positive effects of filter bubbles, like spreading kindne-

Trump: Like…getting me elected?

Erm, depending on which bubbles you are in, that might be a negative effect.

Featured Image: M-SUR / Shutterstock.com

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