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Double, Double Toil and Trouble*
06/01/2017

By: Deb Logan, Vice President

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.”
*William Shakespeare from Macbeth

In May of 2011, Eli Pariser gave a TED talk raising both awareness of filter bubbles and a flag to their dangers. In his Beware Online “Filter Bubbles” TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en) and his book, The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think, Pariser began a conversation that we need to intentionally reopen and connect to the current information landscape. More than simply reopening the conversation, we need to develop and share strategies for dealing with a world bubbling with “toil and trouble” due to filter bubbles.

With the changing political climate, many of us have noticed and remarked upon a decline in social discourse. I find myself thinking about the causes of this extreme shift. As I have spoken with individuals who think differently than I do, I frequently find myself stunned and at times shocked by their views. I also notice myself wondering how they can possibly hold the views they express. After pausing to reflect, I realize that they are in their own filter bubbles. These individuals are unintentionally creating their own realities through algorithms, and are probably unaware of both the algorithms and the ensuing artificial “realities” the algorithms create. At the same time, I am in my own algorithm-based reality. When I am online or accessing my preferred news sources, I not only find myself surrounded with information that aligns with my beliefs and allegiances, I find myself wanting to trust and believe the news that reinforces my beliefs, even when the information is less than credible.

The filter bubbles created by algorithms are not the clear iridescent bubbles that float through the air to the joy and delight of children. They are more like inverted mirror balls, where each individual is encased in a personalized bubble that is lined with mirrors reflecting his or her realities, preferences, and beliefs. While the Web is a thought of as a place of communication and networking, the mirror-lined filter bubbles are creating increasing distances between many people. These bubbles are more like the bubbles found in the witches’ caldron in Shakespeare’s Macbeth; they are boiling with toil and trouble.

In this new information landscape, information consumers need to be more than aware of how they are shaping the views and vistas they find in their personalized bubbles, they also need to know how to pop those bubbles and to see the bigger, clearer pictures. As teachers and information professionals, we need to know how to help our students develop the mindsets and skills that will enable them to burst these bubbles. Please, join us and share your thoughts and strategies at the OELMA and CMCIG of ALAO’s Popping the Fake News Bubble: Engaging Students in 21st Century Media and Information Literacy workshop on Monday, June 19, 2017, at the Ohio State -Newark Campus. Be part of the greater fake news discussion and then participate in the day’s concluding session and discussion on filter bubbles. Register at: https://aom.formstack.com/forms/oelmasummer