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The Consequences of Social Networks

As we’ve discussed in class, exploiting the information derived from social networks can be extraordinarily useful to companies such as Facebook in developing new systems. For example, we explored the mechanisms of a friend-finding algorithm based on the concept of mutual friends. We can see this algorithm hard at work in plain sight on Facebook, but what about the other algorithms running behind the scenes that we don’t necessarily see? Facebook also actively picks up on the patterns of user clicks and attempts to “learn” about users based on the information known about the links. Using this information, Facebook filters your news feed to feature the posts of like-minded people and filter out content that it believes you would disagree with. We can clearly see the errors in Facebook’s friend-finding system, but we’ll never know about all the posts that have been filtered from our news feed.

Facebook isn’t the only culprit; sites all over the web are working hard to personalize their content. Yahoo! News is now tailored to each individual consumer–and they’re the largest news site on the internet! And they’re not alone; other big news sites are doing the same thing. Google does the same thing with search results. As mentioned in the TED talk, two people Googling the same phrase may come up with entirely different results! Even if you aren’t signed in with your Google account, they have 57 different mechanisms of finding out information about you. What does this mean for the future of the internet? Well, it does some damage to the idea of the web being a diverse, open space for expression. The trend of user-based filtering is picking up and it seems the future will be full of this individualized content. Going forward we will have to be conscious of our “filter bubble” and make the effort to venture outside of it.


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