What does Internet cookies and online surveillance have to do with «echo chambers» and fake news?

On March 31. UT Austin Professor Paul Adams on the ViSmedia team held a guest lecture at the University of Uppsala, in the Department of Social and Economic Geography. His lecture was called «Surveillant Geopolitics: Filter Bubbles, Fake News, and the Rise of Donald Trump». The audience consisted of faculty members and students.

The professor talked about how the increased dependence on social media has created «self-contained information environments», commonly referred to as «echo chambers» or «filter bubbles». Adams reported that by interacting within the world through filter bubbles, people developed radically different versions of what is true or real.

These bubbles constantly evolve through input from algorithms called «cookies», which personalize the online experience of the people involved. This personalization happens as a consequence of a sort of online surveillance on the people’s online activities. By interacting with servers far away, the cookies filter and prioritize the results of people’s web searches and other online activities.

The popularity of the politically charged «fake news» is closely tied to the emergence of these surveillant practices and filter bubbles. The exploding markets and escalating technologies for digital surveillance are shaping politics in the UK, the US and others, Adams suggests.

As far as digital communications are subject to international intervention through hacking and strategic disinformation campaigns, the filter bubble has become a more potent tool for reorienting politics, Adams says. This is applied across international boarders and between regions in a new kind of geopolitics.

Read more about Adams’ research and publications here!