Liberal author and online activist Eli Pariser said at the TED conference that he was looking at Facebook one day when he noticed something peculiar. On his news feed where he usually enjoys reading through his friend’s comments and links he realized there was something missing. “I’ve always gone out of my way to meet conservatives” said Pariser “So I was kind of surprised when I noticed that the conservatives had disappeared from my Facebook feed.” Apparently, Facebook had quietly scrubbed the feed clean of anything right wing so nothing conservative was getting through. So what was going on? “It turns out” says Pariser “that Facebook was looking at which links I clicked on. And it noticed that I was clicking more on my liberal friends’ links than my conservative friends’ links. And without consulting me about it, it edited them out. They disappeared.” In other words Facebook decided that Pariser’s conservative friends weren’t relevant to him. It didn’t matter that he liked to occasionally hear their point of view, because he clicked on their links less frequently they had been exiled from his online world. In his new book it is this world Pariser calls the “filter bubble” where hidden code decides what you cannot see. It is certainly a troubling phenomenon and have written extensively about his book in previous posts even reporting on small solutions individuals can use to pop their filter bubbles.
The problem Telegraph Writer Will Heaven points out in his article is that Mr. Pariser seems to think that with the Internet we were supposed to be able to remove the gatekeepers to the world’s news and information. Furthermore, the new gatekeepers in the online world are far worse because these new algorithmic editors lack the embedded ethics of the human editors in our old media. Thus, Pariser suggests apart from revealing what is personally relevant to us that this hidden code should be programmed to also show us what’s important, uncomfortable, and even challenging towards our point of view. Now Telegraph writer Will Heaven admits that Eli Pariser’s plea for transparency from our algorithmic editors is commendable but finds Pariser’s idea of adding ethics to our algorithms troubling. Mr. Heaven raises a good question whose duty should it be to embed civic responsibility into these codes and exactly what idea of civic responsibility would be imposed. To him Eli Pariser’s idea of adding ethics to our algorithms shrieks like the thought police. He concludes by saying that certainly Google and Facebook deserve Pariser’s thorough treatment but if the alternative to the filter bubble is an Internet edited by the New York Times he’d like to opt-out.
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