For those skeptical about whether on-line communities offer the same level of social capital as in person friendships, this cartoon is for you.
Background: Marshall Van Alstyne predicted 15 years earlier that users would self-segregate on the net and choose to get exposed to ever more narrow communities of interest.
We’re now onto the “The Daily Me” 2.0. Some news sites originally let users click on their interests a user could limit his/her news to say sports and entertainment news. Cass Sunstein and Nicholas Negroponte predicted that it would lead to stronger news blinders and expose us to less and less common information, what they called “The Daily Me”.
Well, it turns out that users actually choose to subject themselves to more diversity in opinions and networks on the net than people predicted.
But the latest onslaught, what Eli Pariser calls “The Filter Bubble”, is more invidious. More and more user sites (Facebook, Google Search, Yahoo News, Huffington Post, the Washington Post) now automatically tailor your stream of results, facebook feed, and news feed based on your past clicks, where you are sitting, what type of computer you use, what web browser you use, etc.
Unlike in the past, this is not “opt in” cyberbalkanization but automatic. And since it happens behind-the-scenes, you can’t know what you’re not seeing. One’s search of Tunisia on Google might not even tell you about the political uprising if you haven’t expressed interest in politics in the past. Eric Schmidt of Google said “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.”
Pariser notes that we all have internal battles between our aspirational selves (who want greater diversity) and our current selves (who often want something easy to consume). In most of our lives or Netflix queues we continually play out these battles with sometimes our aspirational selves winning out. These filter bubbles edit out our aspirational selves when we need a mix of vegetables and dessert. Pariser believes that the algorithmic gatekeepers need to show us things that are not only junk food but also things that are challenging, important and uncomfortable and present competing points of view. We need Internet ethics in the way that journalistic ethics were introduced in 1915 with transparency and a sense of civic responsibility and room for user control.
It’s an interesting talk and I clearly agree with Pariser that gatekeepers should be more transparent and allow user input to tweak our ratio of dessert to vegetables, to use his analogy. But I think Pariser, in forecasting the degree of our Filter Bubble, misses out the fact that there are other sources of finding about news articles. Take Twitter retweets. Even if my friends are not that diverse — and many of us will choose to “follow” people we don’t agree with — as long as one of the people I’m following has diverse views in his/her circle of followers and retweets their interesting posts, I get exposed to them. Ditto with e-mail alerts by friends of interesting articles or social searches using Google. We live in far more of a social world where information leads come from many other sources than Google searches or Yahoo News. So let’s work on the automatic filters, but the sky is not falling just yet.
See “The Filter Bubble.” (Feb. 2011 TED talk)
Yahoo is trying to spark random acts of kindness around the world through the 600 million people who are part of the Yahoo “community.”
They ask people to visit kindness.yahoo.com and post online status messages describing their good deeds, inspiring others to reciprocate and amplify their actions.
They call their effort “You In?” since they encourage those doing good deeds to add this to the end of their posts. For example, “I just dropped off a coat from my closet at a homeless shelter, You In?” or “I paid the toll fee for the car behind me, You In?” The messages appear in that poster’s Yahoo! status and can be shared via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Visitors can also see an interactive global map on the campaign’s website at kindness.yahoo.com.
Given that the effort encourages altruism, it is ironic that Yahoo! seeded the program by giving $100 to early participants.
Nick Christakis and James Fowler in their book Connected have an interesting experiment to test altruism and the “pay it forward” concept. But for example, in an experiment they conducted of “paying it forward”, 120 individuals who didn’t know each other were paired off for five rounds of cooperation games involving groups of 4 people each. They never encountered the same individuals. Individuals could decide how how much to share of an initial pile of money and then all groups were told what others had done, the individuals were reshuffled into new groups 4 more times and this process was repeated. They found that for every extra dollar that a person (call him/her A) gave in round one to members of A’s group (call them B), those Bs gave twenty cents more in round 2 to their new groups (we’ll call these individuals C). Then the C individuals each gave five cents more in round three. This was true even though it was not reciprocity since B’s generosity was to new strangers as was C’s, since the groups were reshuffled. Since each B individual and C joined three new individuals in the next round, there was a multiplicative impact of A’s generosity of $1.00 to generate an additional $1.05 of generosity in future rounds. Here the multiplier was restrained by the survey design that had groups of 4, but in principle it is possible that a higher multiplier might be found depending on the group size.
Notable Acts of Kindness under the Yahoo! effort:
- “I traded in a $100 bill for 100 one-dollar bills and wrote a note on each that read: ‘Please take this dollar bill, add one dollar bill, and pass it on.’”
- “I helped an 85-year-old neighbor bring her Xmas decorations down from the rafters — all 12 boxes!”
- “I helped an elderly lady carry her groceries to her car.”
- “I am baking Christmas cakes to share with friends in need of help.”
- “I dropped off supplies at the local Humane Society and at the local women’s shelter.”