Table of Contents
- Table of Contents
- What are filter bubbles?
- Why can filter bubbles and echo chambers be a problem?
- What do filter bubbles and echo chambers mean for growing skills and expertise in marketing?
- How do you break free from the filter bubble and echo chamber?
“Follow and interact with people in your niche” is common advice to hear when starting up any kind of social media presence.
However, what happens when you are surrounded by content voicing the same opinion and never challenges you? You might find yourself in a filter bubble and/or an echo chamber.
What are filter bubbles?
Filter bubbles, conjoined by Eli Pariser, refer to when internet users are presented with content and information that confirms the users’ own ideologies, interests, and beliefs. This is made possible through the countless personalized algorithms that filter the content you see.
We know that social media platforms want users to spend as much time on their platforms as possible because more time on the platform = more gathered data = more revenue. In essence, social media is not free, it’s a trade-off between users accessing the platforms and the platforms accessing our data and attention.
How do social media platforms make us spend more time on the platforms? By introducing algorithms that personalize and present us with the content we want to see. So, when you are offered suggestions on pages and accounts to follow on Instagram, those suggestions are based on the people you already follow or content you like.
Another similar, echo chamber, describes more or less the same phenomenon as filter bubbles. However, while filter bubbles are imposed by algorithms, echo chambers are enhanced by the users themselves in addition to the algorithms. For example, when I was vegan for 6 years I created my own echo chamber by unfriending a person on Facebook who posted something negative about vegan food. The echo chamber is then basically a collaboration between algorithms presenting you with content you want to see and the users adding and removing content based on their own believes and values.
Why can filter bubbles and echo chambers be a problem?
Filter bubbles and echo chambers might not seem like a bad idea from a marketing and consumer perspective. As a consumer, you only see the content that makes you feel good and unchallenged; everything you agree with. As a marketer and a brand, you can be assured that most of the people who see your brand agree with your brand values.
However, when it comes to politics and society as a whole, filter bubbles and echo chambers can have significantly dangerous results. Political polarization, a term that describes two groups with distinctively large differences in political beliefs, has been at the centre of the discussion of filter bubbles and echo chambers. In the worst-case scenario, a combined filter bubble and echo chamber can become something that looks very similar to what is discussed in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. Some even suggest echo chambers could have contributed to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th 2021.
However, not everyone believes that echo chambers and filter bubbles have as big of an impact on our beliefs and ideologies, rather that we already have those beliefs and ideologies from our previous experiences and lives. What is then believed to be the determining factors are things like ‘selective exposure’, ‘selective trust’, and ‘confirmation bias’. You can read about all of these aspects in combination with fake news in another post I have written here. In short, selective exposure means occurs when someone actively looks for content that matches their own beliefs. Selective trust describes when someone only trusts content that matches their own beliefs. Confirmation bias refers to combining selective exposure and trust with also interpreting and remembering content in a way that matches their own beliefs.
However, you look at it, only seeing content and information that you agree with means missing out on different perspectives, growth, and the security of knowing why you believe what you believe in.
What do filter bubbles and echo chambers mean for growing skills and expertise in marketing?
Let’s change the previous sentence into something that might make more sense for marketers:
Only seeing content and information that you agree with means missing out on different perspectives, growth, and the security in knowing why your preferred marketing strategies are optimal.
Whether you are working in marketing or running your own brand, finding yourself in an inspiration and information filter bubble or echo chamber is never good. In my experience, many marketers with specialized skills sometimes stick to their sections in an attempt to become the best in their section. However, everything in marketing is connected.
By expanding our perspective we can learn a lot about how to improve in our own section by looking at those who specialize in a different section. This also goes for background. How can you know that your perspectives are the ultimate perspective if you only follow and engage with white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied men? People with different backgrounds sometimes have very different perspectives, and it’s important to listen to and take into account their experiences and knowledge.
In terms of niche, if you are running a fashion brand and you only keep up with fashion brands you might find it harder to stand out than if you also saw how different travel brands markets themselves.
As a marketer on Instagram, it’s sometimes easy to see several accounts speaking on the same marketing topic with very similar views. In some cases, you might have a different perspective, which is great as you’ll then stand out. But if you’re only seeing these accounts on your feed, you might be stuck only seeing it from one point of view yourself.
This is why I always encourage marketers, and everyone else, to find inspiration from other fields with other perspectives. I make sure to follow similar pages on my main Instagram but have a separate account where I follow a range of different types of accounts where I gather inspiration and new perspectives to see different and new perspectives.
How do you break free from the filter bubble and echo chamber?
While echo chambers can be somewhat easier to break out from, filter bubbles are harder as they are controlled mostly by algorithms. But there are steps you can take to make sure your social media feeds are as diverse as possible. However, diversity does not mean following accounts that have beliefs that directly go against your core beliefs.
It’s important to know the difference between new perspectives that you might not agree with and opinions that are deal breakers who spread fake news and hate speech. Find your moral middle ground and challenge yourself, but don’t make your feed an unpleasant place to visit with no value.
- Diversify who you follow.
Are all the accounts you follow somehow following each other? Try finding accounts to follow on the topics you are interested in that have no connection to those you already follow. Don’t follow the accounts in your suggestion, but actively search for the different terms and look through accounts that seem different to the ones you are currently following.
- Stop muting/unfollowing accounts you don’t agree with.
As mentioned, you must find your own limit, but try to really examine why you mute/unfollow someone. Is it because their opinions challenge your own? If you are secure in your opinion then someone, in most cases, voicing a different opinion shouldn’t make you feel defensive or challenged. Try holding off on the mute/unfollow button for a while to see if their perspective can give you a chance to grow, learn, or become more secure in your own opinion.
- Say no to personalized anything.
Personalized ads and feeds are often the start of a filter bubble. Anytime you have a choice of having something personalized online, deny it.
- Change the way you use search engines.
Different search engines will give you different results. Try changing up your search engines every now and then to see if you get different results. Another thing to try out is not only relying on the first page but clicking through to the other pages of your search results.
- Avoid having social media be your main channel for news.
Social media doesn’t always have room for longer articles and sources. A way of breaking out of a filter bubble and echo chamber is to gather your news from several diverse news pages.
- Practice critical thinking.
Critical thinking should be used with every piece of content you read. Even this post! If something sounds off in a piece of content you might be likely to research the validity of the content. This is something you should consider doing with content you agree with as well! Now, I’m not telling you to spend hours of research for every piece of content you find, but I am advising you to stay critical and not take everything you see as one-sided and the be-all and end-all.
In conclusion, filter bubbles and echo chambers might be great as a consumer, and when marketing to other consumers. But the value of diverse perspectives and knowledge are in most cases much higher than a comfortable scroll through your feed.
What’s your opinion on filter bubbles and echo chambers? Do you believe they are a good thing or do you try to diversify the content you are exposed to?