THE MISSION

The goal of this experiment is to glimpse into the seemingly mysterious and methodical ways that algorithms shape our experience online. I’m hopeful that my findings will allow me to inform others about how their own online activity is being used to feed them content.

 
 
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  • Jordan Kahn

Day 1: 10/3/18

Preliminary training

I must preface this experiment with the disclosure that I identify as a liberal in terms of many of my political and ideological beliefs. That being said, I am taking every measure possible not to introduce any bias into this experiment. However, there are some confounders I will be keeping in mind.


  • The two machines I'm using are in the same location (Urbana, IL)

  • I am using the same Wifi network to access the internet on both machines

  • The machines themselves are not brand new, and therefore may have hidden triggers/cookies that content algorithms may pick up from previous use


To start off the experiment, I first had to set up two different machines with the same, untouched web browser. Since I use Google Chrome for my daily internet activities, I decided to download Mozilla Firefox on both computers (both of which did not previously have it installed. This provided a proverbial "clean slate" for each subject of the test.


The independent variable in this experiment is political ideology. In an attempt to start the content feeding algorithms of Google up and running, I came up with some search terms that are generally viewed as either very liberal or very conservative. I spend 10 minutes on each machine searching these respective terms and poking around the links found on each website I visited.


Liberal Search Terms (MacBook Pro)

  • MSNBC

  • CNN

  • Barack Obama

  • New York Times

  • Huffington Post

Conservative Search Terms (iMac)

  • Fox News

  • Drudge Report

  • Donald Trump

  • Breitbart

  • Citizens United


I began on the conservative profile, using Fox News as a starting point. I began to click on articles that seemed to have a generally conservative bias.

Soon after, I found myself on the official website for Donald Trump and his policies.

Not long after, I was scrolling through Breitbart (one of the most notorious alt-right websites), I was hit with this popup video attacking Hillary Clinton. At this point, I figured I was on the right track.


By then, my 10 minutes were up. I switched to the machine where I will attempt to create the liberal profile. My base search was for MSNBC, an objectively liberal news network.

After clicking through some articles, I then searched for "Barack Obama", as I felt it would be the counter-term to searching for Trump. Eventually I found my way to The Huffington Post. Huffpost has a pretty visible liberal leaning, as evidenced below by the title of their featured article.


Overall, I didn't expect to see any visible results from today's testing. Since both browsers were free of any previous data, there should little to no sway in the direction of content just yet. This is evidenced by the ads that appeared on each page I visited, which seemed to be pretty random. I will be frequenting these sites among other tactics in order to get the content algorithms to create a filter bubble around each profile.


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