Friday, March 20, 2015

Build your own filter bubble in eight easy steps

1. Build your own social reality. Minimize contact between the bubble inhabitants and the rest of the world. Do it in such a way that the primary (preferably only) social contact happens within the bubble. Encourage the creation of a shared jargon and worldview. Encourage shared practices and rituals. The more distinct and self-contained, the better.

2. Create an ingroup and an outgroup. Remind the inhabitants that they possess a very specific form of knowledge, and that this obliges them to act in certain ways. Create strong norms that excludes those who do not act in these ways, and thus also strongly encourages conformity. Present dissidents and outsiders as ignorant and less worthy. Take every opportunity to remind the inhabitants about the virtue of the ingroup and the vices of the outgroup.

3. Successively raise the stakes of participation. Begin with small acts of participation, and slowly but surely increase what is expected. Most people are willing to help out with small tasks, and once it is done it's easy to happen upon doing it again. And again. And again. And each time, a little more. One thing leads to another, and before long, the accumulation of small things is a significant portion of one's life. Once invested (in terms of time, energy, and eventually money) it's hard to leave.

4. Create a mythology surrounding the leadership. Make it known that those who matter within the bubble matter for a reason. Tell legends of their virtues, accomplishments and past experiences. Solidify their significance and legitimacy. Encourage the inhabitants to tell these stories and legends to each other, and subtly inspire them to add more reverence with each telling.

5. Send out the initiated on proselytizing missions. Let them preach the virtues and worldviews of the ingroup to the masses. Let them suffer the scorn and ridicule of these same masses. Strengthen the bubble through repeated and continuous negative experiences with the outside world. Strengthen the group bonds by enacting and encouraging supportive practices after these experiences. Make the ingroup into a support group (in all things). It's the group against the world. The stronger the negative reactions become, the stronger the group becomes. Unity in the face of adversity.

6. Distract the initiated from unwanted thoughts. Keep them busy with constant activities, constant conflicts, constant constants. By continually keeping the buzz abuzz, the news anew, and the further reading ever so slightly further, distraction is assured. Unwanted thoughts and criticisms are drowned in the now. The bubble becomes a constant now, where every next thing is a natural continuation of the preceding thing.

7. Constantly invoke a bright future. Everything will be better, but not yet. It is within reach, but we have to keep working. The revolution is around the corner, we just have to get there. The singularity awaits. All we need is a slightly bigger bubble, a little more money, just one more turn. We can do it if we want to. Forward!

8. Constantly invoke a dark future. Everything can take a turn for the worse. The threat is ever present. It is looming just over the horizon, and it is heading this way. Only the specific knowledge possessed by the group can turn the tide, and only by putting this knowledge to use can we be saved. We must, therefore we can! We can, therefore we must! Keep going!


It's not hard to construct a filter bubble. It is also, the current hype notwithstanding, not a new phenomenon. The text you've just read is based on a book published in 1992, which in turn is based on material from decades and literal millennia ago. The thing presently called "filter bubbles" used to go under other names back in the days.

The book in question is Age of propaganda, authored by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aaronson. The chapter this text is based on is titled How to become a cult leader.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Originally published March 17, 2015

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