Digital Publishers are Bursting Your (Filter) Bubble

User bubble

Digital publishers are already harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to fight fake news.

But, as bogus “journalism” continues to propagate the media landscape, digital publishers face another information barrier: filter bubbles.

Filter bubbles result when a website’s algorithm selects the information a user would like to see based on certain information about the user, such as location and search history.1

For instance, according to a research study conducted by video ad firm Teads, more than half of the 2,000 adult respondents were concerned that social media sites only show them views similar to their own.2

Considering that 62 percent of American adults access news on social media, this concern is noteworthy.3

While personalization is great for enhancing user experience and boosting engagement, a personalized news stream can limit a user’s interactions with contradicting viewpoints, causing the user to become “intellectually isolated.”4

However, digital publishers are once again turning to AI technology to combat this hurdle –through AI-powered chatbots and algorithm tweaks.

For example, The Times, a British publisher, recently launched a chatbot through Facebook Messenger called “Filter Bubble Buster,” which is tasked with providing users with a balanced view of information leading up to the general election on June 8.5

Regarding the new bot, William Park, social media editor at The Times and Sunday Times says, “We want to make sure people read enough outside of what they normally read to stay well informed.”6

The Times’ bot allows users to actively seek out counteracting viewpoints without the fear of potential criticism that they might receive in more public forums like comment sections or personal social media timelines.7

In addition to The Times, BBC has temporarily shifted the focus of its previous Brexit bot to election coverage.

Users of BBC’s bot can opt to read multiple articles about one specific topic. This includes articles from BBC’s fact checking site, Reality Check, which helps halt the potential spread of misinformation.8

By offering their readers chatbots that display articles from multiple sources, both The Times and the BBC are working towards breaking down filter bubbles.

Meanwhile, Facebook is tackling filter bubbles by redesigning its Trending results page on mobile.

The social media giant was highly criticized for worsening the political divide in America during the 2016 election.9 Previously, the section only displayed stories that its algorithm assumed was relevant to the user. Upon selection, these stories would link to only one news source and several public Facebook posts from users with similar personal beliefs and values.

Now, when a user selects a topic from the Trending section, they will see a carousel of stories from various publications to swipe through.10

The goal of the redesign is to give users “more ways to see a more complete picture of a story or topic,” explained Facebook news feed product manager Sara Su.11

It seems Facebook is keen on providing users with diverse options, also announcing an update to Messenger that will include a Discover tab that will surface bots for a variety of experiences.

According to Facebook, users will be able to browse what’s popular, featured or nearby to help find a more well-rounded experience in categories like news, entertainment and finance.12

Indeed, digital publishers implementing AI-powered chatbots and algorithms yet again prove the technology’s worth, this time by breaking down users’ filter bubbles.

Content Personalization

1. Bozdag, Engin (23 June 2013). “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”. Ethics and Information Technology. 15 (3): 209–227.
2. Davies, May 30 2017by Jessica. “UK pubs enlist bots to fight against filter bubbles ahead of the UK election.” Digiday. N.p., 30 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.
3. “Nearly half of U.S. adults get news on Facebook, Pew says.” Nieman Lab. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2017.
4. “What is a Filter Bubble? – Definition from Techopedia.” N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2017.
5. Davies, May 30 2017by Jessica. “UK pubs enlist bots to fight against filter bubbles ahead of the UK election.” Digiday. N.p., 30 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.
9. Constine, Josh. “Facebook shrinks filter bubbles with alternate news sources in Trending.” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 24 May 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.
10. IBID
11. Vanian, Jonathan. “Facebook Is Testing This New Feature to Fight ‘Filter Bubbles'” Facebook Tests Related Articles Feature to Fight Filter Bubbles | Fortune, 25 Apr. 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.
12. “Discover Tab (NEW!) – Messenger Platform – Documentation.” Facebook for Developers. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2017.