While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.
What are the impacts of algorithmically-biased information systems?
You are probably familiar with or have heard of the term ‘news bias’. This is the idea that news can provide a leaning perspective, where one side of the story is more heavily weighted than the other; thereby often providing a more polarizing or partisan view of current events and issues. If you have been living in the U.S. consuming media created within and distributed by our mainstream media systems for the last decade (or more), then chances are you have consumed news of this variety, and may even feel that your side is inherently right and it is the other side that has the story wrong. This feeling that the other is lying, misleading, or twisting the facts deliberately has grown into a distrust and a diminished reliance on not only the mainstream media, but also on each other.
Across the country people are turning their backs on neighbors, friends and family as we consume messaging that moralistically paints the other ‘side’ of any debate, issue, or political persuasion as inherently wrong and immoral. In doing this, we are also turning our backs on seeking the truth and engaging critically, honestly and proactively with our own slanted frame of reference.
We need a moment to pause…
to examine more closely the role we play in creating the polarized information ecosystem that we operate within.
Whether you ingest your news through traditional or new media you are presented with an array of choices. Not everything the publication has to offer, but rather a curated fraction of information algorithmically assembled in the hopes of grabbing your attention long enough to get you to dive into a particular story and spend more time on the platform. Think of the front page of a physical newspaper, the landing page of your favorite blog, the 45-second broadcast segment or the order of the news feed on your chosen social platform. All of these informational spaces were created to provide a glimpse into what your choices are, and as you dive in, each piece of information is surrounded by more recommendations with the hopes of keeping your attention for as long as possible; not so you can learn more or engage with different point of view on any given topic, but so you will spend more time consequently viewing more ads and making the platform revenue with each click or second spent scrolling.
This monetarily-driven goal that affects nearly all social media companies and news outlets puts a heightened focus on the relevance of information over significance of it. This shift to a relevancy-based information structure that operates through human generated algorithms places emphasis on user data and personalized experience within digital spaces. This means that instead of publications showing you what they feel is most significant or important, you are more likely to see what is most relevant to your specific preferences. These preferences are built over time as we engage with information: each click, each second captured and compiled by an algorithm to create an understanding of what you like and don’t like to ingest online. This begs the question: who is learning more, the platform or the user? Who is gaining more: the platform or the user? And who is losing more: the platform or the user?
Understanding news bias and being critical of the source of our news is an essential component of media literacy, one that not only applies to news but to all information we consume, whether it is fictional or non-fictional in nature. Exploring the algorithm bias in our everyday lives will help us understand how we operate within and create biased information channels for ourselves as we engage and consume online. Understanding the algorithm function that is built into search-based and information streaming platforms can allow us to transcend the bias of our own information chambers as we actively seek out unbiased morsels of information, instead of passively receiving whatever the feed trough has to offer.
Take pause. Seek out the truth. Scratch beyond the surface of information. And remember, ‘the other’ is a complex human greater than any misguided post or comment they may make.
actions to take
Seek out diverse media.
Question the nature of
Actively Seek Out Information
Read Beyond the Headline
Diversify Sources for Your Information
Share your experience with us!
Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat.
questions to consider
What information is significant to the well being in my life?
Where do I rely on getting my information?
How many sources of information do I use regularly?
How does the information I see reinforce or challenge my current views?
Netflix’s The Social Dilemma highlights the problem with social media, but what’s the solution?
Here’s exactly how social media algorithms can manipulate you – Big Think