The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, December 13, 2016 10:00 pm


Andrea Cohn

If the recent state of affairs in America can teach us anything, it is that we are utterly failing as educators to raise children who can entertain opinions differing from those they currently have and to hold respectful discourse with anyone who challenges their beliefs. You only have to tune in to the latest shouting match on any news channel or see the increase in violent crimes to see how unproductive our rhetoric has become. But how have we gone from a nation where challenging topics were considered intellectually stimulating dinner conversations to being so divisive and contentious that we have ended up avoiding the very issues we need to discuss the most desperately?

As educators and parents, we need to make sure our kids are being raised outside of the "filter bubble." Internet activist Eli Pariser coined the phrase in 2011 to describe what happens when search engines such as Google or social media sites such as Facebook use algorithms to filter out information based on your past clicks and "likes." This results in feeding you increasingly more results and information you agree with and like, and less that challenges you or makes you feel uncomfortable. In the end, what you end up with is a "filter bubble" that includes a very personalized results set every time you search or log in to your social media site that starts to block out anything or anyone you might disagree with or dislike. And this happens to every one of us. Every day.

So, what happens when our kids are raised in a generation that gets their news from Facebook or Twitter? They are being brought up to look to the Internet as their source for all news. And they don’t even know it is filtered. The bubble has already been created, and continues to grow and develop each time they "like" a new video or create a new hashtag. Google’s only had 18 years to create my filter – I can only image what it will be able to do with an entire lifetime of data. How can we expect someone fed a lifetime diet of like-minded content to suddenly devour a healthy dose of alternative opinion when they reach adulthood? I believe we are already seeing the results of this in our present-day culture.

We have to teach our children to expand their world-view by getting news outside of the bubble, and to do this, they have to know it exists. As educators and parents, we have to teach them that what they see on the Internet isn’t unbiased or unfiltered, even if it is "real" news. They need to read journals, newspapers, and other print media – and not just online. Show them the Opinions and Editorial pages. Let them see that there is a forum for discourse and value in challenging beliefs. And, most importantly, teach them to question and evaluate everything they find online.

As a college librarian, I fight this battle every day. If we cannot teach children to discern between a fake news story sourced from Twitter and a genuine news event, the battle is surely lost before it is begun. If we can go back to the roots of being informed citizens, maybe they will grow into the kind of adults who can reclaim the art of the healthy debate and begin to heal our nation – but it will never happen until the bubble is burst.

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