Freedom to Read Week and Filter Bubbles

Often when we think about the freedom to read, things like governments banning books come to mind. But these days there are actually far more influences on what we are reading and the information we are receiving.

Sometimes we talk about a phenomenon called a "filter bubble." This is what happens when we only read things that already fit with what we know (or think we know) to be true. If we never take in different perspectives we can get to the point where we think that what we know already is all there is to know. We've had these bubbles for a long time because for a long time there's been way more information produced than we have time to process. People need to be selective and read some things but not others.

The Business of Algorithms

One of the weird things that has happened because we get so much more information online is that companies have learned how to make money from showing you certain kinds of information from different sources and not others. Companies like Google and Facebook use algorithms to show you articles (or videos or anything really) that people who are similar to you have liked in the past. This is possible because of the way apps and websites can track who has looked at them (in a way a physical newspaper couldn't). It's also made the filter bubble effect even bigger since it shows you what you (or people like you) have liked in the past, not something different or unexpected.

This personalization can still lead you to interesting reading but there's a question that lingers. If you're selecting from a list chosen by a computer that's designed to make money for its owners by showing you a specifically profitable subset of the world, how freely are you choosing what you read?

How to (Sort of) Pop the Bubble

If that bothers you, you could try using a different search engine that doesn't follow you around the internet to make you a customized and filtered view of the world (you can sign up for  Online Privacy Tools classes at the library if you want to learn more about how these work).

It's impossible to have a reading experience that's totally free from any outside influence. But even taking the time to consider those influences is a great way to spend some of your Freedom to Read Week.