The algorithms of today’s social media news feeds rifle through the vast swathes of content out there and pull out what we are most likely to enjoy by learning our content preferences based on what we click and like. But this poses a risk: as articles, videos and posts are prioritised based on how likely we are to agree with them, we become blind to all other viewpoints. We see only our own world view reflected back at us.
What was intended to create a positive user experience has morphed into a ‘Filter Bubble’, as coined by Eli Pariser, and in our turbulent political times social media users are realising that the algorithms are editing their view of reality. Savvy social media users will begin to seek out strong editorial viewpoints that reflect more diverse opinions and a better reality of the political landscape. They will naturally seek out content that bursts their filter bubble.
We also believe that media owners and other news companies have a responsibility to burst the filter bubble and ensure readers are exposed to a spectrum of views, through fixing their algorithms and serving content with alternate views from time to time. Titles with strong ideological standpoints such as the Guardian should therefore encourage debate and push outside their comfort zone to ensure readers truly see the whole picture.
And this responsibility is greater when we consider that the lead social media platforms regard themselves as broadcast channels. Facebook is a channel to reach the masses – to build 1+ cover (using traditional TV terms) and drive reach figures in an era of Byron Sharp marketing. Twitter is also marketing that it can drive broadcast reach with its Twitter Live offering, and YouTube claims it generates nearly double the number of searches per impression than TV. However, these are broadcast channels that are not regulated by any independent body, or held to any standards that a TV channel or news publication would be. Facebook monitors its own platform, but as the recent Napalm debacle demonstrated, this is veering on censorship, one without any human nuance.
With over £1bn in advertising spend in social media, we must be mindful of its part in the media mix and how it serves a brand’s needs. We rely on social media for serendipitous encounters, and all brand communications aim to disrupt a reader’s psyche to drive awareness and engagement. Understanding then how the algorithm can be used to both deliver content that readers will be pre-disposed to like as well as disrupt and surprise is important to the process.
And the responsibility for marketers? Get out of the London bubble. As members of the media and advertising industry, where the median age is 34, we are tech savvy early adopters, well ahead of the national average in how we source information and inspiration online. However, trapped in our own marketing bubble, we are failing to truly grasp what the world outside London thinks. Collectively we design campaigns for the whole of the UK and cannot afford to be out of sync with the diverse perspectives of our audience; they should not shock us or alarm us. The advertising industry has a responsibility to invest in research – from large scale studies to simple acts of talking and listening to customers – to ensure that we create content that is reflective of the full spectrum of needs, wants and opinions of the UK population.
Even on an individual level, we can play our own part to burst the filter bubble immediately (rather than waiting months and years for the technology to change). Ensure you are reading at least one title or source that wouldn’t normally sit in your repertoire: if you are a Sun reader, check in and read what the Guardian is reporting, and vice versa. See what Fox News has to say about issues at hand, and push yourself to follow someone you don’t necessarily agree with on Twitter. Don’t necessarily block the Facebook feeds of acquaintances who put up posts expressing views at odds with your own.
It doesn’t mean switching to the dark side, but instead being a well-informed marketer.
Monica Majumdar is strategy director at Mediavest