Online Pitfalls

Eli Pariser’s TED talk inspired me the most to write tonight’s blog post.  This is for two reasons– my mom, and my dad.  My mother is a librarian and my father, for many years, was a journalist.  One theme that has always, therefore, run through my life and education has been the notion of the fair and balanced viewpoint, and the ethical responsibility that citizens have to educate themselves on as many sides of an issue as possible. 

The question of the filter bubble is one that librarians have been discussing for some time, but which we do not have an answer for, other than trying our best to educate our students about the dangers of online information.  Sadly, this is often reduced to the too-simple refrain of “check the reliability of your sources”.  While important, this does not go the step further and ask students to question what it is that they DO NOT find in their Facebook feeds, what they DO NOT see on their Google Results.  It is my opinion that librarians, in praising [print] materials (e.g. news papers) which may be more balanced than some forms of new media, frequently (and somewhat justifiably) appear to be utterly out of touch with the world of online information that students reside within. 

When thinking about the filter-bubble problem, it becomes easy to see how our nation could (and has?) become tremendously polarized, as people are fooled into thinking that social issues or fiscal issues are black-and-white in nature, when the truth is that nothing is simple or straightforward.   I can’t even say how many times angry thirty-something friends post really alarming news stories on women’s rights, etc. on my Facebook, and a quick search of a site such as politifact reveals that there is a lot more spin in these stories and a lot less fact.

I love the idea of online curation as a means of bringing balanced views back.  The really interesting question will be- who does that curation?  Can anyone be ‘trusted’ to be a curator?  Should the traditional players in journalism such as the New York times become a hub of curation?  I have read some of Eli Pariser’s work before, but a quick search online led me to an interesting page of his- Upworthy;  There’s not much there yet, but the idea of socially-responsible memes is interesting.  Another interesting site is Just the News, which aims to present, without any advertisements, videos, or social media, the five (or fewer) most important news stories of the day.  

An a peripheral, yet slightly related note, the question of how best to wrap one’s mind around the deluge of information that comes at us through social media is not one that I feel I have personally figured out yet.  (And thus is one of my motivations for taking this course).  I typically find social media distracting more than edifying, although signing up for the right feeds (Educause, the New York Times, etc.) in my reader has helped in the past year.  I have used feeds and search alerts in databases for many years as a way of keeping up with the cutting-edge research in areas of librarianship in which I work.  The biggest problem that I find myself in is remembering to check the bazillion tools that I have at my disposal.  I end up defaulting back to two email accounts (one personal, one professional), Google Reader for search alerts, one social network for professional topics (library2.0) and Facebook, for my personal life. That’s already a lot of tabs to remember to monitor, and the chances of me checking additional tools are slim. What I find that I need is a dashboard that will aggregate all of my social tools.  However, I am not willing to pay for any such solution.   Although I try my best to avoid filters where they inhibit me, and apply filters to allow me to swim (rather than sink) among all this information, ultimately memory is limited, and so is time!



2 thoughts on “Online Pitfalls

  1. Meg,

    Just the News looks intriguing, but isn’t that a filter, too? One man’s thought (decision) about what the most important stories of the day are. Important to whom, though? It’s also interesting that Mr. Temkin planned to update his blog every day in March, then “see what happens after that.” He didn’t even make it to the end of March. I wonder why?

  2. I have to start by saying that I have always admired your way with words. I could read your prose all day! Interestingly enough, as much of a “social media junkie” as I think I am, this course already has shown me that I’m not really much of one at all. While I’m familiar with the different sites out there and their functions, I really just stick to Facebook and Tumblr for personal and LinkedIn for professional. That being said, I feel like I’ve been thrown into the “deluge” of social media “distraction” that which you speak moreso since the start of this course than ever before. (Honestly, I am having the hardest time getting into Pinterest! I just want to quit and go back to laughing at Tumblr animated gifs.) Also, thank you for sharing “Just the News”. I had never heard of that site before, and it seems “pretty quality” as the kids would say.

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