Are you living in a filter bubble? - Greg Orme

Are you living in a filter bubble?

How to make better decisions by sidestepping fake news

Do you know that weird feeling when you think about buying something and a few minutes later you’re smartphone serves you an advert for the very same thing? 

That’s AI-enabled algorithms forecasting what you want, based on your past behaviour – and the behaviour of millions of others with similar preferences. Increasingly, the information that comes your way has been similarly edited. This is known as the ‘filter bubble’. Artificial intelligence notes your former clicks, search history, and even sometimes your location and the digital device you’re using, to serve you information. The online world gives you what it thinks you want based on all your digital yesterdays.

Filter bubbles become curiosity killers when combined with Confirmation Bias. This is the human tendency to search for information that confirms our existing views and preconceptions. It’s tempting to think we’d never fall prey to Confirmation Bias. However, in truth, it really doesn’t matter how smart you are. We all have it. No exceptions.

AI-managed information is a perfectly-designed poison arrow to target this Achilles Heel. The largest ever study of fake news analysed every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users over more than 10 years. The result was depressing. By every metric, falsehoods consistently dominate the truth on Twitter. Lies reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network and spread far faster than accurate stories.

Falsehood flies


Lies outperform the truth on every subject: business, terrorism, war, science, technology, and entertainment. Also, of course politics where its influence is most insidious; most recently in the 2016 US Presidential election and the UK’s Brexit Referendum. A recent study of voters in India showed those locked in a filter bubble were 12 per cent more like to vote for the candidate featured. Easily enough to decide an election. The 17th century satirist Jonathan Swift wrote “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it”. Lies are now on digital steroids.

Here are three simple questions to help burst your filter bubble:

  1. Where is your information coming from?
  2. How can you pierce your filter bubble with more challenging and diverse sources of information?
  3. What are the verifiable sources of your new knowledge? Like a journalist, can you establish the credibility of the content? Is there a way to find another more dependable source?

In an uncertain world it’s wise to constantly question information you ‘find’ to avoid living in a self-perpetuating delusion. You’ll need heightened critical thinking skills to cope with this misleading mediascape. Our hard-wired human biases work against us, and makes intellectual isolation more likely. Without curious questions, you become more what you already are, not what you might be.


This blog is adapted from my second book The Human Edge: How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy which won Business Book of the Year 2020 (Pearson), buy your copy here.

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All right reserved Copyright © 2019 Greg Orme

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