GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

No matter where you stand on politics, these past few months have sure been a roller coaster. And whether you’re currently at the high point or the low, there’s no doubt that algorithms from Google to Facebook are feeding you news and information that align closely with your personal beliefs and validating your position.

The Benefit and Challenge of Algorithms

Eli Pariser's illustration of a filter bubble.
Eli Pariser’s illustration of a filter bubble.

Algorithms aren’t new, and as communications professionals we benefit from their ability to help serve information directly to our target audiences. But as conscious consumers, algorithms can present challenges that are perhaps amplified in light of this recent election.

Interestingly, this 2011 TEDTalk by Eli Pariser, founder of Upworthy, has been circulating the Twittersphere lately and while the talk, titled “Beware online ‘filter bubbles,’” is five years old, it’s pretty incredible how little seems to have changed.

Information Vegetables vs. Information Desserts

Eli gives a digestible overview of how algorithms work, explaining that while consumers don’t decide what gets in, more importantly, you don’t see what gets edited out. He shares screenshots of two friends’ searches for “Egypt” during the unrest of 2011, and it’s shocking the difference in what they were served.

As an average consumer, Eli describes the concept of “information vegetables” versus “information desserts” – which is a pretty great analogy for what we’d all probably rather consume on a daily basis.

Why a Balanced Information Diet Matters

But, he hits on a crucial point as our country seeks to find understanding and unity. To these highly pinpointed algorithms which often feed us information junk food – the curated content we’d prefer to consume all the time – we have to work hard to consciously seek out a balanced information diet. As with the example, searching for information on a particular topic will serve you the results the algorithm wants you to see. You’ll have to dig deeper to find alternate views and opinions.

Which brings us to a not so novel concept – what about just talking to one another in real life? Especially during an election cycle, the Internet can be a contentious space. It’s easy for people to speak out or speak up in ways they might not in a face-to-face or phone conversation. One surefire way to buck the algorithms is to connect in person and engage in an open, honest and respectful dialogue. It’s definitely not as easy, but in the long-run typically produces better results.

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