THE CIRCULAR

Bubble filter: how the algorithm determines the online content distribution

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

Over the past decade, Social Media use grew 12.5% year-over-year, according to Backlinko. It is estimated that 4.48 billion people are currently active on social network platforms; the number doubled compared to 2015, with 2.07 billion. 

Social Media is algorithm-based, a sequence of rules determining which results are visible to users. The algorithm’s function is to gather information to decide which posts or profiles are most relevant or not to a user. In addition, the algorithmic filter analyses the user engagement to target and display content – which can create bubble filters that can shape the perception of reality, deep fakes and fake news. 

In May 2021, a scandal involving Meta Inc., known as Facebook Files, came to the public when the former employee, Frances Haugen, leaked over 20.000 pages of documents explaining how Facebook explored the algorithm’s decision by profits. Through algorithms and bubble filters, the documents expose how the social network amplifies division, extremism, and polarisation, rather than uniting people.

According to the whistleblower, the main goal of the social network is to expand the users’ database by their time spent on the platform. Through data collection and analysis, Facebook targets content based on your interests and affinities to manipulate users’ attention, shape behaviour, display ads, and massively share low information or even fake news. 

Eli Pariser, the founder of MoveOn.Org and Avaaz.org, argues that by selectively predicting the information users will find of most interest based on data about each individual, filter bubbles are created. These mechanisms are constantly being refined, shaping users’ perception of the world with their algorithmically filtered news feed. 

A recent study published by Vice found that Facebook only needs four weeks to radicalise opinions – the platform’s reach allows for the spread of conspiracy theories worldwide. In addition, these can drastically reduce opinion pluralism, directly affecting the way public opinion is formed. 

The Circular.Org on the podcast ‘Sure, Look: inside the bubble filter’ invited Átila Araújo, a Digital Marketing Planner with over 13 years of experience, and Rodrigo Otavio, a Digital Marketing Specialist, to discuss the topic. Check it out:

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