(Free photo from goodmenproject，https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-question-concerning-the-existence-of-information-cocoons-who-is-covering-our-eyes-2/)
Last year, I registered a TikTok account（Chinese version） and randomly filled in my personal information. The system recommended a video about simple arithmetic problems to my new account: math question for primary school students that can be easily solved by mental calculation. However, when I opened the comments section, I found people offered various mistake answers and were diligently digging into the methodology of solving this issue. I am very surprised by the phenomenon that so many people cannot solve this simple math problem.
When I came across this video, I thought to myself, “How could anyone not solve such a simple problem? But the fact is here. In the comment section of this video, there are really many people who can’t solve basic math problems.
Suddenly, I realized this is the information cocoon of the internet. The video content I usually see on the internet is closely related to my own life and most of my friends have received a university education. This makes me think that almost everyone knows the four fundamental operations of arithmetic, while according to the information released by People’s Daily, in 2019, the proportion of undergraduates is only 5% of the total population in China（People’s Daily Online，2019）. There are still many people with a low level of education.”
The huge discrepancy of information made me fall into the misconception that “The world around us is the entirety of the world”. To improve the user’s experience, the internet companies have trapped clients in their familiar circle. If there were no this accidentally registered account, I might never think about the world outside of my small circle.
This blog will discuss the current dilemma of the internet of the information cocoon and explain how big data trapped the client`s experience, as it only recommended information based on user’s individual preferences. The author will analyze the current situation and key problems internet companies are facing, and standing on the subjective and objective reasons causing the phenomenon of the information cocoon. Currently, with the increasing of the awareness of individual rights, to survive, the companies are supposed to focus on self-improvement. And governments and other organizations need to provides assistance to businesses.
I will illustrate this through by the following examples.
Internet Ecology in the Era of New Technologies
• Technical Concept
In the era of Web 3.0, new terminologies such as AI, automation, algorithms, and datafication have gained public attention. For the non-professionals, the new concepts are somehow obscure, but, as Kate Crawford said, people’s political perceptions, social organization, epistemology, and social norms have been quietly transforming under the impetus of artificial intelligence, which is bringing enormous changes to our lives, and all we can do is to adjust ourselves for its arrival.
Among these new technologies, artificial intelligence empowers computers with capabilities for autonomous learning and innovation just like human being; automated operations and process management improve productivity and reduce the risk of human error and accidents, which is widely used in the development and maintenance of websites and application programs; through a series of ordered and defined operational steps, algorithms improve the efficiency and accuracy when solving specific problems, and its visible side is most known as the increasingly powerful search and recommendation functions of Internet platforms; and datafication provides Internet companies with more accurate insights into users and decision-making support.
Whether it’s personalized music playlists, online shopping, smart healthcare, or voice assistants, the promotion of these “intelligent” programs proves that artificial intelligence, automation, algorithms, and data have significantly improved the user experience.
• Problems caused by technology
However, what needs to be vigilant, in the operation of Internet enterprises, is the risks users face such as privacy leakage, big data-based price discrimination against existing customers, advertising harassment and vulgar content infringement triggered by commercial interests, technical capabilities and other factors. The fundamental issue behind these problems is information island. Due to the wide use of personalized recommendation algorithms, the content recommended by the algorithm occupies almost all the user’s time, while other information only gets little. To a certain extent, this phenomenon hinders users’ access to more information and knowledge, and limits their freedom of choice. Over time, the bounded people have little access to information about other aspects (e.g. politics, economy and health).
Is the experience really good for users who are bound by the “cocoon room”? Is this filtering also a form of harm? This is a thought-provoking question.
Artificial intelligence “dominate” human beings – the dangers of information islands
• Reinforcing cognitive bias and discrimination among netizens
The algorithmic recommendation has caused to some extent the phenomenon of filter bubbles and cultural isolation in the internet culture.
“Google Memo”The “Google Memo” incident occurred in 2017, when Google engineer James Damore published a memo within the company.” In the memo, he argued that men have inherent physiological and psychological advantages in programming, and that Google’s efforts to increase the proportion of female employees were incorrect. This gender-stereotyping article sparked a Twitter storm.Many people gather in their own topic circle, seeking views that match their own cognition, while attacking other perspectives and evidence as a group.
• Exacerbated social division and segregation
The same phenomenon of information narrowing also occurs in the online communities of China.
Zhihu and RED are both Chinese internet giant companies and they are very popular social media platforms with different positioning and functions.Zhihu is similar to Quora, focusing on knowledge sharing and discussions, with a higher number of male users.RED focuses on the beauty beauty, fashion, and other female consumer fields, with a higher number of female users. Netizens have given Zhihu the moniker “Male Hu” due to the prevalence of gender discrimination speech, while RED is often referred to as “female-RED” for its frequent unilateral/self-interested feminism remarks. However, due to the “closed” internet environment, individuals from both sides of the population rarely encounter opposing viewpoints. Neither side had a chance to exchange ideas, and the one-sided information only serves to increase hostility among people.（Fuchs, 2021）
• Artificial intelligence recommendation algorithm threatens personal privacy and security
The “Cambridge Analytica” scandal that rocked the world was a massive data security storm. At the time, the company Cambridge Analytica obtained 87 million pieces of personal information by exploiting Facebook’s open platform. These personal information include users’ names, genders, education, birthdays,social network activities, interests, and so on. The said company attempted to use this data to develop targeted marketing and propaganda strategies for political groups or candidates, with the aim of influencing voters’ behavior.
This has made us aware that companies, as entities, also need to bear the corresponding responsibility of protecting privacy.（Richterich, 2018）
• Increase people’s anxiety
For commercial or political reasons, some media outlets will exaggerate the impact of disasters and publish news reports that depict events such as disasters, wars, and violence in a false manner. For example, during the COVID-19 epidemic, due to the severity and uncertainty of the situation, many people went online to seek information to keep up with the latest developments of the outbreak. Unfortunately, the algorithms and filtering mechanisms of social media platforms led to an overwhelming amount of false information and conspiracy theories related to the pandemic being spread and consumed by many people. It is worth noting that news can propagate like a virus in the online environment. These news that easily arouse readers’ anxiety and fear will aggravate people’s anxiety.
(Free photo from zhihu，https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/71026157)
Flood of information——Causes of information silos
• Users’ own psychological needs & the winning mentality of developers and operators
From a subjective point of view, people are often more willing to accept information that conforms to their own views, and they will show resistance and rejection of different views and voices.This cognitive bias motivates people to like to stay in the comfort zone of the “cocoon room.”
User psychology can be said to be a very important reason for the information silo problem. Secondly, the operators and developers of internet platforms also have an undeniable responsibility for the information silo problem.
In order to grab market share and win in the scramble of platform capitalism, developers and operators have to provide a good user experience to Improve platform click-through rate and retention rate,This has led to Internet algorithms and recommendation systems increasingly tending to cater to user preferences, becoming one-sided and limited. (flew, 2021)
• Government & Internet Platform & News Media Commercialization
From an objective point of view, due to administrative needs, the governments of some countries or regions restrict or over-promote certain information, which affects the diversity and fairness of information.This is an important factor that causes the information cocoon.
In addition，some internet platforms also force users to watch specific advertisements, filter and restrict the dissemination of information, which leads to a limited circulation of information. These algorithms filter out information that users are not interested in based on their search records, browsing behavior, preferences, and other information. In the end, what is presented to the user is information that aligns with their preferences and targeted commercial advertisements. This filtering leads to users being unable to access more diverse information.
The third party responsible for this social phenomenon is the current news media.The commercialization of the news media is an important reason for the information cocoon.In order to attract readers and advertisers, some news media will emphasize the entertainment of news and report news that is of interest to specific groups of people rather than a truly objective report.
It can be seen from this that there are many reasons for the information cocoon phenomenon, including not only the personal preferences of users and the influence of developers, but also factors such as the commercialization of news media. All of these lead to users obtaining increasingly one-sided information.
In the new era, solving the problem of the “information cocoon” requires multiple strategies.
Diversified information sources, critical thinking, platform reform, education, and propaganda are all crucial for solving the problem of information bubbles. To achieve these goals, the joint efforts of the following five parties are required.
1. Governments and international organizations need to provide the necessary governance frameworks, and fully support and serve companies. (Mercedes Bunz & Laima Janciute, 2018) For instance, strengthening international cooperation, supporting and developing new technologies, establishing artificial intelligence laboratories, and contributing to open-source software projects.
2.Civil society organizations can provide diversified sources of information, and advocate data transparency and openness. Also it can promote the flow of information from different news media, academic research, and professional reports, and ensure different groups and perspectives can be fully expressed and heard.
3. To help the public understand the background, reasons, and impacts of news events, News media should strictly adhere to professional ethics and legal regulations, strengthen fact-checking, and provide more explanation and analysis in the report, thereby reducing controversies and misunderstandings caused by one-sided information.
4. Internet companies should establish stricter information release rules and review mechanisms, improve big data recommendation mechanisms, and prevent platforms from blindly catering to user preferences for commercial interests and only recommending one type of voice or position. Internet companies can iterate their applications and provide personalized recommendations and services for users who want to think laterally.
5. Users need to be aware of the existence of information cocoons, obtain information from multiple channels, and build multidimensional frameworks, shifting from linear thinking to network thinking. Comparing and analyzing different perspectives, avoiding blind acceptance and dissemination of information, and thereby squeezing the space of information cocoons.
The Internet is an open and accessible platform, and the development of information technology was originally intended to enable people to see the world more clearly.
Through information sharing and communication on the internet, people could have a deeper understanding of the cultures, customs, political systems, economic development, and other aspects of other countries and regions.We should not trap ourselves in information silos and become increasingly closed-minded and narrow-minded.Instead, we should embrace diversity and inclusivity, actively seek different perspectives and opinions, and enable artificial intelligence, automation, algorithms, and datafication to better serve us.
He Miao, & Xiong Xu. (2023, April 12). 2019 National Statistical Bulletin on Educational Development: The number of students in school exceeds 280 million. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from http://edu.people.com.cn/n1/2020/0520/c1053-31716824.html?ivk_sa=1024320u
Crawford, K. (2021). Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence. New Haven: Yale University Press, (pp.1-21). https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/10.12987/9780300252392
Peng, H., & Liu, C. (2021). Breaking the Information Cocoon: When Do People Actively Seek Conflicting Information? Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 58(1), (pp.801–803). https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.567
Fuchs, C., & Unterberger, K. (2021). The Public Service Media and Public Service Internet Manifesto. London: University of Westminster Press. （pp.1-10）DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book60
Richterich, A. 2018. Big Data: Ethical Debates. In: Richterich, A, The Big Data Agenda. London: University of Westminster Press.(pp. 36) DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book14.c
Roese, V. (2018). You won’t believe how co-dependent they are: Or: Media hype and the interaction of news media, social media, and the user. In P. Vasterman (Ed.), From Media Hype to Twitter Storm (pp. 315). Amsterdam University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt21215m0.19
Flew, T. (2021). Regulating Platforms. Cambridge: Polity, (pp. 79-86).
Bunz, M. and Janciute, L., （2018）. Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things: UK Policy Opportunities and Challenges. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book25