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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Avoiding the digital ‘flock’

By Chuck Leddy,
Harvard Gazette
Originally published June 27, 2013

Here are two excerpts:

Digital tools actually encourage flocking (called “homophily” by social scientists), Zuckerman said. For instance, “Facebook is very good at connecting us with people we’re already connected with.”  Zuckerman also mentioned Facebook’s search function, which personalizes results based on your “likes” and the preferences of your friends. “It’s kind of creepy,” said Zuckerman. “I’m not sure I want my friends pre-filtering for me.”

Whether in the real or virtual worlds, said Zuckerman, “We have a talent for finding people with the same socioeconomic background or racial background. But this tendency to flock may be keeping us from finding the information we need,” and the tools we’ve built for the Internet only enhance our flocking bias.

“My fear is that our tools are not promoting diversity,” said Zuckerman, whose appearance served as a launch party for his book “Rewire.” Personalization tools “want to give you precisely what you want, to make you comfortable” and ready to buy things, he said. “The danger is that we may be driven into small circles of the same content,” a sort of digital self-segregation into echo chambers where none of our assumptions get scrutinized.

(cut)

How then should people manage their tendency to seek out like-minded folk? First, they need to track their behavior for the presence of flocking bias. Zuckerman showed a graph exposing his own Twitter “follow bias”: Only 27 percent of the people he follows are women. “This is an embarrassing slide,” Zuckerman said, “but now when I follow someone, I think about” the follow bias. He said people need to be self-reflective about their media-consumption preferences, and push back against them. “I know that left on my own, I’d spend all my time reading cute cat macros on Reddit” or constantly consuming news about his beloved Green Bay Packers.

The entire story is here.
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