Publish at November 19 2020 Updated October 20 2021

Taking Students Out of Their Filter Bubble

Forging an Articulate Thought Process by Confronting Opposing Ideas on Social Networks

The election of Donald Trump in the United States, in 2016 led many people to take an interest in social networks. Indeed, the Republican candidate had based much of his campaign on his presence on Twitter and Facebook. Moreover, on the latter, analyses had shown that many people had been exposed to fake news during this election period without ever seeing articles contradicting these facts. In short, the world was suddenly confronted with reality: the consumption of information on the networks is biased.

Recommendation algorithms are indeed tasked with keeping us captivated by the news feed, punctuated by several targeted ads. Thus, a person will see texts and reactions from individuals matching their worldviews, mostly excluding those too different. Coupled with the cognitive mechanism of confirmation bias, the networks give the idea that others are wrong. A Manichean approach of good versus evil that is detrimental to online discussion. Moreover, this reality, discovered in 2016, has led to actions to make these algorithms more transparent, whether in France or the United States. For some observers, the survival of democracy is at stake.

Exposing Students to All Opinions

For many, education, especially higher education, is about young adults being exposed to different points of view. This would be part of the essential background for future elites. Yet many are concerned about the increasingly political positions taken by university administrations, especially in conservative spheres. In the name of fighting racism, homophobia, transphobia, and feminism, more nuanced views or questioning certain principles would simply be dismissed, leading to layoffs of the more "problematic" faculty individuals in the eyes of the administration. An approach that would worry some for whom the university must be more neutral. Conversely, American students who have shown social activism on their networks can also be rejected by an academic institution. This makes some a call for amnesty for those who enroll.

Reminding students to take an interest in things happening out of their comfort zone seems essential. It helps to highlight the limits of one's knowledge and understand how one's fellow human beings see the world. This way, they will be able to reach out to others more and have constructive exchanges. Since social networks take time to change their algorithms for this purpose, it should be taught to young adults.

At the University of Lorraine, needle is an internal software meant to be a very interesting kind of news feed. For example, learners had to monitor news about the job they envision having, using emerging technologies. Thus, they would post their findings on needle. Now, here, the students did not have a personal profile to speak of. Their searches allowed them to see what others had contributed and lead to reflections and serendipity. This approach also allows them to see how Facebook and Twitter don't offer the chance to go explore other avenues and make discoveries.

In the US, at Chatham, this political science teacher's aide saw that these students lacked knowledge about the cases at hand. For example, as she began a class on Twitter on the same day that Donald Trump's impeachment proceedings began, she realized that many were unfamiliar with the principle and didn't even know it was happening in Washington. Doing a class on Twitter then allowed for both sharing the basics of this topic, showing opinions on both the left and right and pushing the thinking with the learners.

Finally, it is possible among both young adults and high school teens to work on the issue by a small game made with LearninsApps. 4 Twitter profiles (always 2 opposites) are displayed. The game offers articles, ads, subscriptions and keywords that you have to associate with each one to understand the filters on the social network.

Is the Internet Really to Blame?

Since it's important to get out of our filter bubble, maybe we should do it with our opinions on the Internet. Indeed, researchers are very interested in how we relate to these tools, and it seems it's not so simple. A study done by the University of Mainz shows that, on the contrary, social networks have forced some people who have given up watching the news on TV to be confronted with it online. According to these scientists, who hope to take their research further, these applications would have therefore broken down barriers.

This France Inter column recalls a study carried out with American voters exposed to the opposite point of view on Twitter. This exposure led to no significant change in opinion for the other side. Everyone remained strongly in their positions. The methodology for this study remains questionable but it does lead to a forgotten reality: the polarization of ideas did not start with social networks. These are merely a reflection of processes that began long ago in society.

Illustration : DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

References :

Alric, Jean-Yves. « Les Réseaux Sociaux Ne Nous Enferment Pas Forcément Dans Des Bulles De Filtre, Selon Une étude. » Presse-citron. Last updated: 16 February 2020.

Barker, Chris J. "Give Students Social Media Amnesty." The Harvard Crimson. Last updated: 11 September 2020.

David Irvine, Andrew. "Escaping the Echo Chamber." C2C Journal. Last updated: 7 September 2020.

De la Porte, Xavier. "Les 'bulles De Filtres' : Est-ce Vraiment La Faute D'Internet?" France Inter. Last updated: 18 February 2020.

Dervyn, Solene, and Alexis Doise. "Les Algorithmes De Recommandation : Quand Les Plateformes Décident Pour Leurs Utilisateurs." Affiches Parisiennes. Last updated: 29 May 2020.

Duchesne, Véronique. "Pour Ne Pas Rester Dans Sa Bulle (de Filtre)." Réseau Ticeur.  Last updated: 13 January 2020.

Falgas, Julien, and Audrey Knauf.  "Témoignage : Sur Internet, Comment Inciter Les étudiants à sortir De leurs 'bulles De Filtres'." The Conversation. Last updated: 29 September 2020.

Kock, Kaarlo. "Expand Your Filter Bubble." Medium. Last updated: 11 October 2018.

Schmitt, Céline. « Sortez De Votre Bulle ! » France 24. Last updated: 19 October 2020.

Sweet-Cushman, Jennie. "Want to Build Students' Civic Engagement? Teach Them How to Use Social Media." Last updated: 13 November 2019.

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