This project is an interactive video installation that seeks to bring awareness about Filter Bubbles. Those algorithms filter the enormous amount of data available online in order to display only the relevant information to the user. Seeking the right information would take a considerable amount of time with using those pieces of code to help the user. However, if those filters have their benefits, they also tend to bias the options offered to the user. They can ultimately lead to a variety of problems from weakening democracy by manipulating the potential electors to the reinforcement of conspiracy theories just to give a few examples. There are many ways to avoid the negative effects of those algorithms but to know when and how to act against them, the first step is to know their existence. By letting the user experience the world of data and see how it impacts his own filter bubble, I tried to modestly open the discussion about neutrality of the information people have access to.
What is the background of your project? Summarize the research you did, such as your . influences, similar products and projects, and technical research.
Through the year, we had to question ourselves on the usage of technology and the problematics of the data and algorithms. Those topics resonated with me and I was especially interested in the loss of freedom than they could generate. However, those subjects were too vast to be treated in just a project, so I had to reduce the scope. I decided to focus on filter bubbles as it is narrow enough to be treated in a thesis. But I made this choice because those algorithms can have a great impact on the nations and their citizens by being able to shift votes by more than 20% as Jacob N. Shapiro has shown in an academic paper for Princeton University. This is not the only study that shows such results and with the importance of social media and search engines nowadays their impact will probably grow even more. In a year of elections for the United States and just one year away from the presidential election in my own country, France, I thought it was the right topic for my project.
During the IMA Low Res program, I worked on a project to denounce the dark patterns that trick people to do something they don’t want or don’t need and ultimately it was also talking about the loss of decisions made by people.
In another class, I worked on a project that featured PoseNet and ThreeJs in which I was manipulating some kind of energy spheres. My Thesis has similarities as it requires manipulation of a camera to extract the position of a specific part of the body in order to attach 3D elements to them. For some time, I considered for some time using those coding libraries for my project and also switching the first one for Kinectron in order to use Kinect. However, I decided to use a new software in order to learn the pros and cons of different technologies. Eventually I chose TouchDesigner, as it works natively with the Microsoft device and was created for live interaction.
The project is an interactive video installation that is controlled by people movement. To do so, I used the software TouchDesigner, some Python expressions, and a Kinect for the core of the project. I also used a tiny bit of Adobe Premiere and After Effects to create the intro video. The project has two modes, one is the stand by mode that displays a video of various social media pages and videos that represents the variety of feeds you could find online. When someone is close enough to the Kinect, the video disappears to let the person enter into the data world that consists of particles that represent the flow of data. TouchDesigner uses the data position of the spine of the user to attach a 3D element. This one changes color depending on where the person is standing as the screen is divided into 3 zones. Each zone increases the value of one specific color from 0 to 255. If one of the values reaches 255, the 3D shape turns from a sphere to a Cube. If the person moves from one zone to another, the counter on the top right corner shows the calculations as percentage of freedom/objectivity. It acts as a video cue of what is going on. The last piece of interaction is the right hand that can catch the particles in a warp in order to symbolize the collection of information.
If what we learned during this year at the New York University was great, nothing had more importance in the shape of my project than the different user testings. They brought me a lot of great feedback that greatly improved the cohesion of the piece. And for this I will never thank the person who spent time testing my project.
While testing the early version of my project, I came across a few design issues that I had to fix For example, at first particles were made of flying thumbnails of the videos which are displayed in the stand by mode. However, when people started to interact with the project it was really too messy and confusing. So I faded those particles and replaced them with much smaller ones. Also, after testing, I had to color the particles based on the different sections of the screen, in order to give a visual cue to the users. Visually it is less appealing but it allows people to draw connections between the different elements of the project and it was necessary for them to understand how the project was working. After another round of user testing, I decided to add the counter on the right corner to display the percentage of freedom for two reasons. First to link the change of the bubbles to the numbers to reinforce the link with the topic but also to give another visual cue of what is going on. I noticed that while the colors were changing gradually, it was not obvious enough that it was happening all the time. Adding just a single counter was really helpful to link all the features together.
But until the very end of this project, I struggled on how to present the topic of my thesis. To explain why this was the main difficulty of the project, we have to consider the true nature of the Filter Bubbles. They are algorithms that are hidden, no one sees those algorithms in action, no one chooses their parameters except the one who created them and maintains them. Because they are not aware of them, people cannot talk about the consequences of those filters and cannot act against them if they think they are bad for themselves. That’s why,, it was complicated to present this project without any explanations, people could have enjoyed the interactions but would not have understood the topic of the project, and therefore it would have become meaningless. And even if the different user testings showed that the different additions were going in the right direction, it was never enough, not clear enough. So, I had to start the projection with a question to tell the user what this project was about.
I may have been available to vehiculate this information by making the project less abstract by using clear reference to a specific topic such as the American election by displaying democrats and republicans news and videos. However, if it may have worked in the US it wouldn’t have been relevant in other countries. And no topics would have been universal enough, as people are so unique and there is an infinity of information available online, it wouldn’t have made sense to make a project displaying only a few types and hope it will be sufficient. That is why, my project has a more abstract look in the end. I hope that my project will be understood enough to start the conversation about Filter Bubbles and that people will regain a tiny bit of their freedom of choice and objectivity.
Quentin André, Ziv Carmon, Klaus Wertenbroch, Alia Crum, Douglas Frank, William Goldstein, Joel Huber, Leaf van Boven, Bernd Weber & Haiyang Yang. “Consumer Choice and Autonomy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data”, Dec 19, 2017
Henrik SkaugSætra.”The tyranny of perceived opinion: Freedom and information in the era of big data”, Østfold University College, Jul 5, 2019
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160791X19300983Jakub Czopek. “The phenomenon of the filter bubble as a threat to freedom on the Web”, International Journal of Pedagogy, Vol 7, p11-15, Oct 12, 2020
Engin Bozdag & Job Timmermans. “Values in the filter bubble Ethics of Personalization Algorithms in Cloud Computing”, Delft University of Technology, p7-15, Sep 11, 2011
Kim Mortimer. “Understanding Conspiracy Online: Social Media and the Spread of Suspicious Thinking”, Dalhousie University, 2017
Engin Bozdag & Jeroen van den Hoven. “Breaking the filter bubble: democracy and design”, Dec 18, 2015
fs.blog. “How Filter Bubbles Distort Reality: Everything You Need to Know”
Eli Pariser. “The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think”, Penguin Books, Apr 24, 2012
Nicholas Carr. ”The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”, W. W. Norton & Company, Jun 6, 2011
Evgeny Morozov. “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom”, PublicAffairs, Feb 28, 2012
SPECIAL THANK YOU
I wanted to thank Matthew Ragan, Elburz & all the TouchDesigner community for their tutoriels and help on the forum of Derivative.
Finally, to keep the best for the end, I would like to thank all the IMA Low Res professors and all my classmates who made this thesis possible. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you all.
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