Social media creates a democracy-challenging informational filter

The increasing pervasiveness of information filtering via social networks has implications for American democracy, said David Weinberger, a senior researcher with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society during a Nov. 4. National Archives and Records Administration event in Washington, D.C.

"When you are filtered through the people who are like you, that's an extremely effective filter," Weinberger said, since people tend to naturally cluster based on common interests and preferences.

"That is exactly the problem," he said, adding that he would prefer social network providers such as Facebook and Google deliver article recommendations based on what his friends like, as well as based on "what a whole bunch of people I don't like are reading."

Social network companies are unlikely to do so, Weinberger added, since "they increase the possibility that they will be sending something that is upsetting to me, is disturbing to me--which is bad for their business, but would be really great for our democracy."

Social networking as it stands today is significantly different from other Internet tools and services, Weinberger noted. "It's the one we do not own. Someone else owns it," he said. That makes social networks unlike, for example, the World Wide Web itself, which was an invention of Tim Berners-Lee.

Lee "did not take out a patent, he did not copyright it. He gave it to us, it was a gift, and that gift has made the world what it is now," Weinberger added.

For more:
- watch the Nov. 4 event, the 7th Annual William G. McGowan Forum on Communications (embedded video)

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