Skip to Main Content

News Literacy

What are Filter Bubbles?

Video: Beware Online Filter Bubbles by Eli Pariser on

For an even deeper dive, check out TED's How to Pop your Filter Bubble playlist. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of Americans, at least occasionally, get their news from social media sites. Yet social media (even more so than a Google search) is inundated by algorithmic and personal choice filter bubbles. 

While filter bubbles occur outside of the digital realm, for our purposes, "filter bubble" refers to when a website's algorithm selectively assumes the information that users want to see based on past actions. This often results in users only seeing a post from people and sites that they agree with, often without them even knowing that there is a contrary argument. 


To see this difference for yourself, check out Blue Feed, Red Feed from Wall Street Journal 

Confirmation Bias

Confronting different ideas, especially when you have another long-held and passionate view on the topic, is hard. The process can leave you feeling upset and frustrated. To save us from this pain, our brain tends to be automatically drawn to information that reinforces predispositions we have and then rejects different ideas as false. This is confirmation bias. Confirmation Bias works with filter bubbles to keep us locked in a cycle of only reading and interacting with ideas that we agree with. 


Being aware of your thoughts and feelings about an article can help you overcome confirmation bias. As you read an article, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I part of the group this is written for or an outsider?
  • Are the writer’s basic values or beliefs similar or different from mine?
  • How do I respond emotionally to this text?
  • Does a friend or classmate react differently to the text?

How Can You Burst Your Filter Bubbles?

If you follow the steps below, you will be well on your way to distancing yourself from your filter bubbles:

  1. Search out news sources that do not match your own political leanings.
  2. Engage with people and comments you don't agree with on social media.
  3. Take a break from social media.
  4. Be on the lookout for misleading content.
  5. Remove your personal belief from the algorithms by searching incognito.

How do these Algorithms Work?

As you search Google, or scroll through your Facebook feed, liking pictures and articles, these sites are presenting you with this information according to mathematical equations. These equations are generally based on a combination of the quality of the content and your previous actions and reactions to similar content. Algorithms are the set of mathematical equations that each site has coded to help maintain the order of content and what advertisements individuals see.


It is important to note that every algorithm is different and they are constantly changing. Facebook will prioritize different factors than Google or Instagram. These companies keep the specific configurations a tightly held secret but will periodically publish major changes to the priorities of their algorithms. To see the specifics of different social media sites (in 2018) see this article from the Prosper for Purpose blog.  If you are interested in staying up to date with the changes that Facebook is making to their algorithm, check out the official Facebook Blog.