Every so often a new study pops up comparing the knowledge base of the FOX News viewership to some other group or groups on the big news items of the past year. These other groups have been watchers of other news programs, people who get all of their news from comedy shows, and most recently people who do not consume any news whatsoever. ( http://www.nydailynews.com/news/fox-news-viewers-informed-current-events-don-t-watch-news-study-finds-article-1.981257) In every instance, regular viewers of FOX News have been shown to be less informed about the events than, well… anyone. In fact, they are not only under informed, they are actually misinformed. The facts of the world that these viewers live in no longer match the reality of the rest of the world.
This is obviously not a new phenomena, and this is not an article about FOX News. But Fox’s “news” organization does highlight the inherent dangers presented in the very similar way that the internet is being presented to all of us. (Thought you were safe just because you get your news online? Think again.) Google, Bing, Facebook, and many, many more are filtering the content you see in an effort to provide you with a better experience. They watch the items you typically look at and then make an effort to push aside the things they believe you don’t want to see. Like say, opinions that disagree with yours. The longer this goes on, the more “out of phase” each of us become with the facts and realities of the world outside of out immediate sight. In effect, we each become viewers of our own “FOX News,” tailored to specifically provide us with the worldview that the corporate search algorithms think we most want to see.
Think about this the next time you find yourself in a political debate with someone who still thinks Obama is a Kenyan.
So what can you do? According to The Filter Bubble, there is no one best way to handle the problem, although they do have some suggestions. First is deleting your cookies, which track the sites you visit and report back to the originator of the cookie. Second is to keep your web history erased. Google and sites like it can, will, and do read this file right off of your computer and use it to filter what you see.
The third suggestion is sort of a losing battle, but do what you can to keep your Facebook information private. Facebook is a clearinghouse of their users’ personal information, (remember, if you’re not paying for it, you aren’t the consumer, you’re the product.) selling you to anyone with money. Unfortunately even if you are as tight as possible with your privacy settings, Facebook is in the habit of resetting them occasionally to the “default,” or “chronically public” defaults… all without telling you. You are much better off never putting anything on Facebook you are not 100% comfortable with everyone on the entire planet knowing.
Fourth, The Filter Bubble suggests removing what may seem to be the most innocuous of all pieces of personal information about yourself from the dizzying array of online sites that ask for it… your birthday. As it turns out, this innocent seeming tidbit is one of the most common “keys” for tracking your identity. There may be a thousand Jacob Browns in the country, but how many were born on the fifth of January? Three? Maybe even just one.
Your next options revolve around your browser. Most current browsers have an incognito mode you can enable to retard the internet’s ability to collect information about you and slap a rose tint on your computer screen. Many, such as Chrome, IE9, Firefox, and Safari also have plugins that dispose of cookies and log you out of websites (like Google and Facebook) that track your movements as long as you have an active login.
None of these are perfect, and none of them are complete. Used together, you stand a much better chance of getting a more realistic view of the world around you without someone else deciding for you what you should and should not see. It is true that some people will not care that this is happening. Some people will even become angry if they are exposed to points of view that differ from their own. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you.
Before we can come to the table over our most contentious issues, we must first agree what the facts are. As long as both sides are receiving differently filtered realities, we can’t even do that. How can we settle our problems when we can neither agree to their causes or even what they are?
Can you point to the corporate computer that you feel comfortable with allowing to make the decisions about what you should and should not be permitted to know? Because I can’t.