Eli Pariser: How You Surf Dictates What You See
If you've ever spent a few hours cruising the web, you've probably noticed how search results and side-bar advertisements slowly begin to populate the sites you look at, articles you read or online outlets you shop. Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy, and co-founder of Avaaz.org and Board Presiden of MoveOn.org, visited Wanderlust Stratton to share a Speakeasy talk titled, "I Can Haz Meaning: How algorithms decide what we pay attention to, and what we can do about it," in which he analyzed the systems by which we are watched online, how this information changes what results search engines will give us, and why this is so important to be aware of moving forward in an age where your online personality is becoming more and more public.
"Increasingly online we're surrounded by a membrane of filters that know a fair amount about what we look at and what we like. So, we're moving into this world in which the web thinks it knows what we like and who we are, and is rapidly trying to cater to our personal whims," Pariser explains.
Though we may find it satisfying to recieve search results and information that appeal to our interests, beliefs and likes, the threat is that our worldview is being innacurately shaped, and in fact, shrinks. Eli shares a story about a search test during which two people both Google the word "Eygpt." One person recieves information and results on the war going at that time, while the other recieves vacation information. The gap between these two searches shows how one person might view a country completely differently from another person, and oftentimes by drawing conclusions on these inaccurate, or at least, incomplete views.
"The danger [of these search results] is we're surrounded by what is going to make us happy, and not what is reality. We can see in the brain that people love seeing information that validates what they already think is true. Conversely, when people are presented with information that challenges what we think is true, we almost instantly get cranky."
Why not favor search results that we want as opposed to those that make us cranky? Eli explains, "Want is very complicated thing - we all want to be thin and healthy, but we all want to eat cake. These are long term aspirations versus short term desires. We need companies to think of us as more than our impulsive behaviors."
Eli Pariser is an online organizer and disorganizer. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Upworthy, the former Executive Director of MoveOn (he now serves on the board), a co-founder of Avaaz.org, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Filter Bubble. Shortly after the September 11th terror attacks, Eli created a website calling for a multilateral approach to ﬁghting terrorism. In the following weeks, over half a million people from 192 countries signed on, and Eli rather unexpectedly became an online organizer.