In his new book, ' The Filter Bubble ', Eli Pariser lays it out that the internet has undergone profound change. It filters what we see based on computerized assumptions modelled on our browsing history. He worries that each of us may become stuck in little information bubbles
because it is impossible to know what is being excluded.
One of my favorite examples Pariser gives is Facebook . Facebook filters out FB friends' activity if we interact with them less often than with other peeps. This frustratingly cements the loop -
you never wind up getting to share cross-posts at all. Thus, the range of ideas and interests we are exposed to that our friends are talking about is restricted by outside forces beyond our
control. (This drives me and my other politically-aware friends nuts, frankly.)
Filtering impedes what the internet, at its best, is all about - the free flow and exchange of ideas and information. In a recent speech , Eli also demonstrated that search engines return different
results for different people even if they are searching the exact same things. This is a deeply worrying trend. It holds the potential to interfere with the democratic process. We cannot
consider ideas and opinions that we are rarely, if ever, exposed to.
And it is difficult to see how new ideas could surface that might benefit society, as argued so elegantly here:
'If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one
person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more
justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power,
would be justified in silencing mankind...the peculiar evil of
silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation...'
- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873): 'On Liberty: Chapter Two - Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion'
What happens now when the odd-man-out is right? Are we more likely to continue blissfully unaware toward some collective abyss because we were prevented by internet filters from considering what he or she had to say ?
So that covers filtering of social networks and search engines. But, as is so usually the case with coincidence, within days of having viewed the clip of Mr. Pariser's talk, somebody e-mailed me wondering what the deal was with the Google ad on the top of my home page. My puzzled friend included for helpful measure a screen shot of what he saw. And what he saw was not what I saw. What he saw was different.
My site is dedicated to writing about things such as resource wars and political corruption; American Empire and erosion of civil rights; human rights ; and last but certainly not least, the oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by the apartheid State of Israel.
Definition of apartheid is a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. Some insist on Israel being exclusively the national home of the world's Jewish people, when
almost 25% of the citizens of Israel proper are Palestinian . That figure doesn't include millions of Palestinians either languishing under military siege in Gaza or occupation in the West Bank. Nor
does it take into account the Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.
When I look at my home page, typically I will see in the Google-generated ad box at the top an ad about BDS - boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel - a peaceful form of protest until that
state decides to abide by international law and stops discriminating against, and oppressing, the Palestinian people. It worked in South Africa to end apartheid there. There is no reason why it
could not help bring about peaceful change in Israel-Palestine.
(Story continues below, after the jump)
I always assumed that the BDS ad above was just that - an ad about BDS. But I googled it just now and in fact it is a site dedicated to attacking the BDS movement as, 'blacklisting,
demonizing, slandering' Israel - putting what appears to be a lot of time and effort into discredit ing a movement it labels a failure. .
Getting back to the point at hand, what my vexed friend Joe saw at the top of my page was a different ad paid for by a group calling itself, 'Bachmann For Congress'. The ad attacks
President Barack Obama's recent affirmation of America's long-standing policy (which remains in place , on paper): that Israel should withdraw to pre-1967 borders, end the occupation, and
make peace with the Palestinian people. As can be seen from the screen shot below, the ad categorizes Obama's position as a betrayal of Israel.