17 May 2011


Eli Pariser's TED talk and new book, The Filter Bubble, has sparked some new/old discussion on the idea that the Internet creates isolated islands of reality [ via Reddit | Slashdot ]. This is an old fear that the Internet enables us to surround ourselves with only those news outlets, social groups, and encyclopedias that support our beliefs. Pariser's twist on the story is that not only will we self-select the facts that surround us, but the tools we use (e.g. Google and Facebook) will start selecting for us. He illustrates how Googles search results are tailored not only to what you've clicked before but also to where you're physically located (a total of 57 dimensions are parsed for customization). Facebook slowly eliminates friends' comments from your feed if you haven't clicked on their links in a while. Yeah, I'd like to have silliness automatically removed from my environment, but the state of machine learning is such that some very black-and-white parameters (click/not-click) are making for crude silliness eradication. What was that about good intentions and roads?

In contrast, there was a paper put out a year ago by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro titled Ideological Segregation Online and Offline that got some equal, if forgotten, attention [ via David Rogers -> David Brooks ]. A long summary from Brooks:

According to the study, a person who visited only Fox News would have more overlap with conservatives than 99 percent of Internet news users. A person who only went to The Times's site would have more liberal overlap than 95 percent of users.

But the core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News.

But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck's Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times's Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

The authors of the paper summarized their findings: We find that ideological segregation of online news consumption is ... significantly lower than the segregation of face-to-face interactions with neighbors, co-workers, or family members. We find no evidence that the Internet is becoming more segregated over time. There will always be ideologues, but maybe those who spend time on the Internet will be exposed to greater diversity than those whose dominant interactions are IRL.

[ posted by sstrader on 17 May 2011 at 11:26:09 PM in Internet ]