A filter on the elections?

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14 November, 2016

Jaarverslag Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens | Considerati

To many, the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States, has probably been the most important news of late 2016. The world now anxiously awaits what lies ahead; hard-bargained trade deals suddenly seem in jeopardy, the NATO-pact is put into question and even the protection of fundamental rights looks increasingly shaky.

Not only Trumps election, but also the way in which he was elected has now become an hotly debated issue. The existence of a ‘filter bubble’ is being put forth as a key factor explaining Trump’s election (and Clinton’s defeat).

In a filter bubble, internet platforms profile their visitors’ preferences, connections and political views and adapt the information they serve accordingly. Voters who were inclined to vote for Trump in the first place, were only served pro-Trump news, thus confirming them in their views.

The extent to which the ‘filter bubble’ influenced the outcome of the election needs to be verified. Moreover, as ‘traditional media’ tend to equally confirm their readers in their worldview it is questionable if this is merely an issue of online platforms or of media more broadly.

At the least, it will be interesting to see whether the issue will become politicised in the coming months.

Not only in the US, but in Europe, profiling has become an important theme. For instance, the European General Data Protection Regulation – entering into force in 2018 requires transparancy of decisions made on the basis of profiling, a sensitive issue.

With the discussion in the United States, the impact of algorithms will become more salient in the public debate. A fast (political) response focused on technology seems tempting. Yet here the question is if technology is actually the cause, or just reveals an underlying problem.

Julius Witteveen

Senior Public Affairs Consultant

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