Web Bias

November 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Web Apps | 1 Comment
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As people shift more and more to getting news and information from the web, there’s an important detail we might overlook. While we may know a paper is conservative or a station is alternative, the web behaves differently. Many of the larger sites automatically filter content to favour our apparent interests. For example, you’ve probably noticed that if you watch a cat video on YouTube, it will automatically “recommend” more of the same. Many large sites do much the same.

While this may be convenient and help keep us on the site (and seeing ads), it narrows our view of the world by creating a bubble of information. A few years back, I posted a TED talk on the subject.

The recent US election has brought the subject to the fore, along with issues of “fake” news. Facebook is denying it’s news feed had an influence on the election. But the Wall Street Journal has done an interesting mock-up that illustrates the issue in action. You can see how very¬†different the 2 feeds are for a subject. Keep in mind this is not just true of Facebook.

Friends have tested search engines similarly. Test the same search on 2 different computers – one in the financial district and the other in a poor part of town. Completely different results. Multiply this across many sites and it can affect your sense of the world.

The key – diversify your sources and pay attention to reputable international news sites that bring an out-of-country perspective. You can also use a tool like DuckDuckGo to search Google while reducing some of the tracking.

To take this further, what we see of the world will reinforce Cognitive Bias. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a summary of 12 types. And Facebook has their own page on “Managing Bias“.
David

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