Misinfo Monday: Are Algorithms Feeding You Crap?
Have you ever had a discussion with a family member or an old friend, and felt like they were living on a completely different planet? You know their world view is very different from yours but still, every fact or anecdote they give you seems...strange. Where did they hear all this crap?
It might be because they’re consuming radically different content online than you are.
Platforms like YouTube and Facebook use algorithms to decide what kind of videos and stories you’re most likely to enjoy based on past content you’ve watched or engaged with. Sometimes this can be harmless, like if Facebook decides you’re more likely to ❤️ a cat photo than a dog one. Sometimes it can even be useful, like if YouTube recommends a cooking video it (correctly) thinks you’ll like.
But sometimes, algorithms can trap people in an echochamber where their beliefs are never challenged. Though YouTube denies it, research shows that content recommendation algorithms are fueling a crisis of disinformation and cultish behavior about vaccines, cancer, gender discrimination, terrorism, conspiracy theories and more. That’s because, as we wrote in our 2019 Internet Health Report, platforms are designed in ways that incentivize and reward extreme and sensationalist content.
“Algorithms can reinforce the same points of view over and over again, trapping you inside a recommendation bubble.” says Tomo Kihara, maker of TheirTube, a website that lets you experience other people’s YouTube bubbles. “So if you're skeptical about climate change, YouTube can recommend even more content denying climate change — confirming the bias that you already have,” says Kihara. That’s problematic on platforms like YouTube, where over 70% of views were recommended by the AI.
So how do you know you’re in a recommendation bubble? “I think the only way to know you are in a recommendation bubble is to see others' environment” says Kihara. “By offering a tool to understand what the other recommendation bubbles look like, we hope to help people to get a better perspective on their own recommendation bubbles.”
Experience someone else’s bubble now at Their.Tube
Want to read more about recommendation algorithms? Here are some great resources from around the web:
- More about TheirTube, a Mozilla Creative Media Award Winner on the Mozilla blog
- Rabbit Hole Podcast featuring Mozilla Fellow Guillaume Chaslot from the New York Times
- The Challenge of Democracy in the Digital Era in the 2019 Internet Health Report
- Spotlight: Let’s Ask More of AI in the 2019 Internet Health Report
- YouTube Regrets: stories about the videos people wish they’d never clicked from Mozilla
- We Don’t Understand How YouTube’s Algorithm Works—and that’s a problem from Fast Company
- Are Conspiracy Theories Good For Facebook? From NPR
- Facebook Executives Shut Down Efforts to Make the Site Less Divisive from the WSJ