The Dark Side of the Internet - Part II

Last time I shared my thoughts on how the Internet creates this sense of being able to say whatever you want without fear of consequences. Today I wish to touch on another aspect of the Internet.

You go online, you open your browser, and you do a search for something. Next you know, advertising for what you searched for or similar products begins to pop up everywhere you go with your browser. How does this happen and why? 

Whenever you visit a website or click on an advertisement, you become automatically coded as having done it. You therefore go into a target list for advertising for similar products, and the more circulation or the more clicks a browser or service provider gets, the easier is for them to sell further advertising. You see, website developers can track how many clicks an ad (or a link) gets, and is able to report to the advertiser. Some of them charge by traffic to the target website, some just use the numbers to further peddle for additional advertising. So your browser is not free (not really) - you pay for it by getting all those unsolicited ads, taylored to your specific preferences. If two people in two different computers or devices go to the same website, they will get different advertising and links because the browser shows the ads and links that, accordign to your prior behavior, you are most likely to click on.

Now let us leave aside the commercial advertising. What about news? They work the same way, because the developers know, statistically, that people clicking on certain news are more likely to click on certain links or ads. For example, if you click on a link for the NRA, you will probably start getting ads on weapons, and the more times you select news related to weapons, the more advettising you will get - and related news links. Since I often click on Israel news, news about Israel normally make it to the top of my news list...

As you click on more and more links, the wizzards in the Internet construct a more complete profile of your preferences, thus providing you with a menu of options each time you log in, that (in theory) will keep you interested.

So what happens when this is applied to political opinioons, ads or preferences? You begin receiving more and more of the links you prefer - to the point that all opposing points of view may end up being "crowded out" of your list. At that point, you become "informed" (a more accurate description would be exposed to) by opinions and reporting that resembled moe closely your own point of view and interests. As this goes on for a while, you may become convinced that since all the news you receive fit with your own opinions and ideas, most people are (or think)like you. With the use of "Fake news", the effect becomes even more pronounced. And the more convinced you become that everybody thinks like you, the more inflexible your opinions become. This is how, for the sake of profit, the Internet unwittingly promote polarization.

So can we revert this trend? In an age when the Internet is resident in multiple servers all over the Globe, any attempt to regulate it by any particular government will fail, unless that government curtails freedom of information. Some dictatorships or closed societies do exactly that... China and several Arab countries come to mind.

So how can you personally find a way to minimize this invasion pf your freedom of information? By actively seek opposing points of view in the Internet, thus countering the bias you may naturally be prone to. It means reading things that may be out of your comfort zone - but those are also the opinions that promote critical thinking. The internet does not have to be a catch 22... we can map our own route if we are willing to. Just my two cents.



Add Comment