The Filter Bubble: What is it? (Part 1 of 3)

When I started writing about the filter bubble I didn’t realise how much I would have to say on the topic, so I decided to turn this into a series of posts.

This week I’ll be covering the basics of the filter bubble, next week I’ll be looking at what this means for businesses, and I’ll conclude the week after with what this means for customers.

In simple terms

In basic terms, the filter bubble is the result of the algorithms used by social media to determine what you see on your news feed.  It uses information stored on you such as your location, past click behaviour and search history to figure out which stories and posts you would most be interested in.

History of the filter bubble

The term ‘filter bubble’ was first coined by Eli Pariser in his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You. He describes is as:

“that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms”

Since the 2011 release of his book, the filter bubble has continued to gain the attention of communications professionals and has since entered the realms of mainstream media.

One of the most prominent arguments against the filter bubble came as a result of the 2016 Presidental Elections.  Some people argued that Trump’s victory was surprising as most social media users only saw content relevant to their own political views, consequently underestimating his political following and contributing to low voter turnout.

With this in mind, I don’t think I could put it any better than Eli when he says:

“Ultimately, democracy works only if we citizens are capable of thinking beyond our narrow self-interest. But to do so, we need a shared view of the world we cohabit. We need to come into contact with other people’s lives and needs and desires. The filter bubble pushes us in the opposite direction – it creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists. And while this is great for getting people to shop online, it’s not great for getting people to make better decisions together.”


The Debates

The jury is still out over whether the filter bubble is a good or bad thing.

While the aim of these algorithms is to provide tailored content to users based on their interests, there are arguments to suggest that this narrows their world view and places users in a so-called ‘bubble’.

Alternatively, you could argue that the filter bubble is providing a more personalised experience but is no more unethical than a typical newsroom with the usual editorial bias. However, what social media fails to achieve is place content in a global or historical context.

There are also arguments against the filter bubble for cutting people off from other world views, closing people off from new ideas, subjects and important information.

It’s a natural progression of this debate that now puts the onus on social media platforms to ensure that their users are able to access a variety of relevant and informative content from a diverse network or sources.

With no major changes in the way social media operates since Eli Pariser wrote his best-selling book, it will be interesting to see how platforms respond as the ethics of the filter bubble continues to feature in mainstream news.

Is it OK to Repurpose Content?

With more and more organisations and individuals taking to blogging it can be hard to think of original and engaging content.

When you’re struggling for inspiration it can be easy to look at old posts or other people’s posts for content. But is changing a few words and reposting old content right?

Here are some points to consider:

Blogs are covered under copyright law

Using other people’s content without permission is not only unethical but illegal as blogs are covered under copyright law.

The act of copying or adapting someone else’s work is a restricted act. Any adaptation will be legally regarded as a derived work; so if you simply adapt the work of others, it will still be their work, and they have every right to object you if publish such a work when they have not given you permission to do so. They are also entitled to reclaim any money you make from selling their work.

The UK Copyright Service

It is never right to pass someone’s work off as your own, and if you are caught you could face both reputational and legal repercussions. By all means look to others for inspiration – but remember that your customers visit your blog to hear what you have to say, not what you’ve copied and pasted.

This includes your own content

While you might think it’s ok to change a few words on some of your old posts, I would think again.  If the content was written by an employee or former employee you will need to check their contract to make sure that anything they write during the time of their employment is owned by the organisation.

It’s also worth considering your followers, loyal and regular visitors of your blog will be expecting new content.  Fobbing them off with old posts could lose your followers. However, if you are really struggling for inspiration….

Make sure you have something new to add

You can use other people’s content – with a caveat.  Make sure it is credited and linked through to the original and that you’re adding a response or new angle in your own words. If you’re using a large proportion of their original work, it’s also good to check with the original author to make sure they’re ok with you doing this. While this isn’t legally necessary it is common courtesy.


As an example, here are three blogs  covering the same topic:

The Fake News Crisis: What it means for business – by AntiSocial Media.

Commercially speaking, clickbait and fake news can seriously damage a business’ reputation with social media users.

I wrote this blog last month and the title is pretty self-explanatory. It looks at how the fake news crisis affects businesses and how organisations can remain vigilant.


A draft public relations framework to tackle fake news – by Stephen Waddington

Public relations is on the front line in helping organisations tackle fake news. Here’s how.

This is a post written by Stephen Waddington, Partner and Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice at the Newcastle University. His post discusses how public relations can help organisations who are affected by the fake news crisis.



From where I sit, the fake news crisis is an opportunity: a teachable moment for all marketers who might have lost their way.

This final post is a contribution to the Huffington Post by Julie Ginches – Cheif Marketing Officer for ViralGains. In her post, Julie addresses new research into spotting fake news stories and how marketers can be more responsible to themselves and their profession in response.


As you can see, although these three posts have the same theme they all address different aspects of the fake news crisis from different angles. While none of these articles are repurposed, I wanted to include them to demonstrate that just because something has been covered before, it doesn’t mean that you can’t update the conversation with new information or opinions.

Further information on author attribution can be found here.


The Fake News Crisis: What it means for business

One of the most prominent news stories on social media this week is the circulation of fake news.

It seems that the US Presidential election has become a turning point for social media usage, with an increase in users and content attempting to influence the outcome. Platforms and search engines were widely criticised after the polls for failing to prevent the spread of fabricated stories.

Yet, while social media usage has skyrocketed, so has the propagation of news stories that are either completely fabricated, or based on unconfirmed half-truths.

While there is a debate going on at the moment over the regulation of news on social media, including whether the platforms should be held to the same journalistic standards at other news outlets, journalists and influencers are all chipping in with their opinions.

Even Pope Francis had something to say.

But what has this got to do with me?

Commercially speaking, clickbait and fake news can seriously damage a business’ reputation with social media users.

From a PR point of view, the sharing of news stories by commercial organisations is usually a means to establish them as a thought leader, or to provide interesting and thought provoking content to their followers to increase their reputation online.

While the issue is so prominent in the media, circulation of fake news by an organisation can lead to them being seen as an untrustworthy source if the source or story is discredited. Leading to a decrease in follower numbers or discrediting future posts – ever hear of the boy who cried wolf?

It could also be the case that for larger organisations the stories may involve them, thus directly affecting their reputation with rumours or falsifications about how they operate.

How do I spot a fake news story?

Sometimes the way that fake news is presented makes it very difficult to spot, especially in the myriad of content consumed by social media users each day.

If you come across a story that you’re thinking of sharing on social media, the responsible thing to do is to check its authenticity before clicking.

The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself the following questions, as outlined by the BBC:

  • Have I heard of this website before?
  • Is this the source I think it is, or does it sound a bit like them?
  • Can I point to where this happened on a map?
  • Has this been reported anywhere else?
  • Is there more than one piece of evidence for this claim?
  • Could this be something else?
An example of a fake news story

What do I do if I spot a fake news story?

If you do spot a fake news story, either on your commercial or personal account, the ethical thing to do is to report it to the platform for further investigation.

Each platform has its own method of reporting a post.  On Facebook, you can click right hand arrow at the top of the post for more options, for Google you scroll to the bottom of the page and click ‘Feedback’, and on Twitter you can click the three dots beneath the Tweet to report it.

A thorough guide including screenshots can be found on the BBC website.

After the media attention that fake news is receiving, platforms and search engines are keen to prove that they’re taking the problem seriously, and I bet it won’t be long before there is a more efficient system in place for testing a story’s authenticity before it can be shared.

In the meantime, users will have to remain vigilant and use their judgement to determine which stories are real, and which are fodder for users who click share without thinking.

Can Companies #Cyberbully?

This month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has made blocking cyberbullying his top priority for the social media platform.

It’s an understandable stance for the platform to take, with trolling and hate speech acting as barriers to engagement between users and a deterrent for new users.

To combat this, Twitter has plans to upgrade its ‘Mute’ feature, meaning that users can block hurtful phrases, keywords and notifications from being mentioned in hateful conversations.

There are also plans to upgrade the platform’s tools to allow easier reporting of policy violations and content that specifically:

“targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease.”

The changes come as a result of the spike in usage following the recent US presidential election, with more and more instances of cyberbullying and discrimination occurring during the heated presidential debates (mostly from Trump’s own account).




In all seriousness, cyberbullying is sadly becoming a fact of life, with 62% of all reported cases of bullying happening online.

If then, cyberbullying is a frequent occurrence, what does it look like? And is it just users that cyberbully, or are companies doing it too?


“To bully online by sending or posting mean, hurtful, or intimidating messages”

If then, this definition takes cyberbullying to be sending messages online to intimidate or hurt other users, then companies can be guilty of this too.


Does this Tweet contain hurtful messages?
What about this one?
Or this?


Trying to be witty and responsive on Twitter is no excuse for being hurtful. There is a fine line between what you find funny and what could be deemed insensitive – you never know what users are going through in their private lives.

You never know who you’re offending or alienating with your comments, and spreading hurtful messages isn’t going to bring in customers or spread a positive reputation.

As a business, what can you do to help stop cyberbullying?

  • Report any instances of hurtful or intimidating messages you see online
  • Check your own accounts to make sure you’re not being insensitive – get a colleague to check with you
  • Try not to bring personal opinions on race, politics or other heated issues to your commercial social media – it attracts negativity
  • Don’t single out users – if someone has a complaints then deal with it appropriately and take the conversation out of the public sphere.

Do you steal your photos?

One of the most common areas small businesses fall down on is the images they use on their social media.

When you don’t have the resources to hire a professional photographer for every photo it’s easy to jump on Google and pick the first photo you find.

But did you know that this is stealing?

Images, like music and movies, have usage rights. This means that you either have to own the image or have permission to use it on your website or social media – or face legal repercussions.

It’s also not very nice for a photographer or another company to see their work on your website or social media without being credited. As well as using images they have created and paid for, you may create confusion for customers of both companies and a reputation for yourself as unoriginal.

What happens if I get caught out?

When someone infringes copyright, there are various courses of action that could be taken by the owner of the image, such as:

  • You could be contacted by the owner and asked to remove the image
  • You could be asked to purchase a licence and come to a commercial agreement
  • You could be taken to court to resolve the issue legally.

Obviously, the last thing you want to do is attend a court hearing about copyright infringement. This is usually a last resort and often results in you paying to use the photo as well as any legal costs, and possibly other financial compensation to the images owner.

Further, you could also be asked to permanently remove all copies of the image from your website and social media, unless permission from the copyright owner is secured.

“Deliberate infringement of copyright on a commercial scale may also lead to a criminal prosecution. Even in situations where people may think their copyright infringement will not be detected, they run the risk of being discovered and subsequently being pursued through the courts. ”

So how can I avoid copyright infringement?

The easiest way to avoid using someone else’s images is to take your own. With the advances in technology it has become easy to take photos using a camera phone that are of good enough quality to use on social media.

However, if that isn’t possible, or if you’re looking for something more high-res, you can search online for image labelled for reuse.

This means that the owner of the image has flagged it for use commercially and you can use it without fear of repercussion.

Where can I find images labelled for commercial reuse?

It’s actually really easy to find good, stock images for use on your social media. As well as Google’s advanced search options, there are dedicated websites you can use that are full of high quality images.

Google Images


Google Images has its own advanced search option that lets you search for pictures labelled for commercial reuse.

All you need to do is search for the image you want (I used ‘camera’ above), then click on tools and usage rights.

Make sure you select ‘Labeled for reuse’ if you plan on using the image on a commercial website or social media account.





Unsplash has to be one of my favourite websites.

They are host to hundreds of beautiful hi-res photos that are completely free and can be used commercially.


Similar to Unsplash , is a bank of free to use hi-res images that you can use on your organisation’s website or social media accounts.




Pexels also has a wealth of free to use hi-res images that you can take full advantage of.


As well as these free services there are also some paid for sites such as ShutterStock, iStock and Adobe Stock.


If you would like more information, the current UK guidance on image copyright law can be found here.

Is it Right to Stalk Job Applicants’ Social Media?

If you’re looking to hire someone into your organisation you want to ensure that you’re making the right decision, especially if you’re going to spend time and money on training and development.

So how do you know that you’ve chosen the right employee? Are you really hiring someone who can act as a brand ambassador and uphold your company’s values?

Would you turn to stalking potential candidates on social media to find out what they’re really like?

Ok, stalking might be a bit of a strong term, but over 60% of employers in this survey check out a candidate’s social media presence before they decide whether or not to hire them.

But is this the right thing to do?

I would argue yes – to a certain extent.

If you consider that everything you post online on your public feed can usually be searched and accessed by anyone, then there is nothing to stop an employer (or potential employer) from doing a quick search on their candidates.

After all, if they link their profile to your company page then their drunken photos, inappropriate memes and ill thought out posts become associated with your business.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have privacy settings allowing users to have private accounts, making their posts and photos accessible only to selected followers.

Additionally, they all have their own private messaging features, allowing users to take their conversations away from the public sphere.

So is it wrong for a potential employer to search for candidates online?

No. If there is information in the public sphere online then it is accessible by anyone.

What matters most is that businesses don’t discriminate on gender, appearance, race or sexual orientation based on the information that they find online.

It might also get really awkward if you ask your interviewees about their holiday in Italy three years ago. If you decide to take at look at their profiles make sure you only get the information you need.  A quick look at their most recent photos and posts should let you know whether this is someone you want representing your business.

I’m looking for a job – what should I do?

While I fully support free speech and the freedom to express yourself, there are other means of doing this and there is such a thing as oversharing.

If you’re looking for a job and are worried your online profiles are NSFW then I would recommend changing your privacy settings so that you only share your content with your close network.

Or if all else fails, untag, untag, untag.



Twitter’s New Customer Service Tool

This week I thought I’d take a look at Twitter’s newest development in keeping with last week’s post (you can read about Instagram’s latest feature here).

Acknowledging the significant number of customer service interactions occurring on the platform, Twitter has announced a new feature which allows organisations to respond to customer service queries via Direct Message.

Twitter has become the go-to platform for consumers to vent at organisations and often becomes a battleground for moaning customers and complaints.



Although this does give organisations the opportunity to respond quickly and directly to customer complaints (sometimes very wittily, see below photo), it also draws negative attention to your brand in a very public domain.




So what does Twitter’s new feature mean for organisations?

Basically, Welcome Messages encourage customers to send the organisation a Direct Message and move the conversation to a more private arena. It also gives the option of including Quick Replies, so that users will receive an automated response to inform them of the quickest way to resolve their query.

Twitter said:

“When quick replies and welcome messages are used together, businesses can reduce wait times and educate people on the best ways to interact with them. For example, they can enable faster resolutions by helping customers more easily provide information to solve problems before an agent sees the first message, or they can simplify automated services and transactional flows that were difficult in the past.”

Overall, this seems to be a good thing for businesses. Less negative tweets, and customer complaints being resolved quickly and often automatically, therefore reducing time and money spent on social media resolutions.

Ever the pessimist

However, I would like to take a moment to consider the implications of this a bit further.

Yes, customers are directed to send you a private message, but reducing the number of negative Tweets in the public domain could also be seen as whitewashing over problems.

Part of the charm of social media is that almost everything is in the public domain, creating a level playing field between brands and their followers. If users are being directed to send the organisations private messages as opposed to Tweeting them publically it could remove the transparency and imply that the business is wilfully hiding negative comments.

One of the draws of social media is the two-way avenues of conversation it affords. It makes organisations accessible and humanises them to create positive reactions from target audiences. If, as a business, you start to answer complaints with automated responses it could create more negativity in your customers.

How often have automated phone options made you angrier than you were originally?

Its also worth considering that customers intending to leave you positive feedback will also be directed to send your organisation a Direct Message. Meaning that this feature will also reduce the positive interactions you have with your customers that often act in the way of endorsements for your business.

While overall this move makes sense in terms of protecting an organisation’s reputation from negative attention, I think there will be a fine line between it going very right and very wrong.

After all, it is all about the public’s reaction and the feature’s success depends upon whether they choose to embrace it, or not.

What do you think?