Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: May 18, 2017     Views: 1071

When you search Google or scroll through your Facebook feed, you may have noticed that you see a lot of ads or posts that seem tailored just for you.  That's because most search engines and social networks are designed to collect data about your preferences (based on your search history, the things you click on and the posts that you make) and "push" more of what you like to you.   So, when you Google something, you'll get a completely different set of results (at least on the first page) than do your friends, classmates and instructors.  This has been called a filter bubble...and we each have our own. 

This is convenient when you're shopping, of course, and can make hobbies even more fun.  But when it comes to information, there are serious risks.  By filtering out what doesn't interest you, or what you don't agree with, search engines are restricting your world view and potential to learn new things.  Does it matter?  Certainly.   Nobody wants to be ill-informed, biased or narrow minded.  Filter bubbles set us up to be all those things.

As a college student and a future professional, a filter bubble can actually impact your success:  how can you thoroughly research and write about a topic if there is important information or alternative points of view that are being filtered out of your search results?   You can't.   So, how can you "pop" that bubble?

 

  • Clear your browsing history often.  This will clean the slate, and force search engines to bring you a wider array of results.   See instructions for:  Firefox | Chrome | Internet Explorer | Safari | iOS
     
  • Try searching incognito.  Try DuckDuckGo or Ixquick,  two search engines that do not track your search history.   Or, in your browser, turn on "incognito" or "private" mode when you need to research a topic.  See instructions for:   Firefox | Chrome | Internet Explorer | iOS
     
  • Search more deliberately.  Get some background information to be sure you're familiar with the major aspects of your topic -- including any alternate or opposing points of view.  Then, search Google, etc. with keywords that specifically target as many of those ideas and points of view as possible.
     
  • Know what a trustworthy website looks like.  There are clues that will help you avoid biased or inaccurate pages on the open web. Click here to see them.
     
  • Double check your sources.   If you find that perfect quote or statistic from a web page, make sure you can trace the information to its original source, or at least find another source that corroborates it.  Even better is if your original and/or corroborating sources are scholarly!
     
  • Use the library's databases (aka the "deep web").  This is a big time-saver! Library databases do not pre-filter your results based on your search history, though they do let you choose how to limit your results (e.g. by publication type, date, scholarly vs. popular, etc.).  Good keyword choice will still be important, though.  

 

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