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.

  • Jordan Kahn

Summary and Analysis

Throughout this process, I have had two main goals.

1. To get Google's search algorithm to feed me results based on my perceived political affiliation

2. To get the same result as above but on Twitter

As a final test, I chose 3 key words/phrases that I thought we politically divisive enough to yield different Google search results on each profile if my plan was successful. These are the three I chose.

- Planned Parenthood

- Climate Change

- Caravan (due to the recent news surrounding the migrant caravan crossing Mexico)

Below are the results from the conservative profile:

And from the liberal profile:

As you can see, the search results on each profile are almost identical. This result could be due to one or multiple of the following factors.

1. There was not enough information given to Google by either profile to successfully obtain personally tailored search results

2. Firefox has very good ad detection and information collection blocking software built into the browser

3. Google's algorithms actually do not provide tailored search results to the extent hypothesized

With the data I've collected, I cannot conclude that Google's search algorithm personalizes search results based on previous information given by the user. If I were to try this experiment again, I would probably use a virtual machine for each profile, VPN, and Google chrome as my browser. I may also give myself a longer window for testing.

As for Twitter, on the other hand, I think I was quite successful in creating a "filter bubble" of politically charged content on each profile. Here are some screenshots from both.

Conservative profile:

Liberal profile:

Clearly, the types on content shown on both feeds are drastically different and closely tailored to their respective target political viewpoints. The most notable differences are that of the notifications and suggested follows. While the conservative profile had notifications almost exclusively about Trump tweets, the liberal profile received notifications solely from left-leaning news outlets and figures. Also, the suggested followers for the conservative profile were almost exclusively right wing pundits and news outlets, while the liberal profile was suggested to follow mostly Hollywood celebrities and sports stars. The ads that appeared on both profiles, however, didn't seem to differ much. This is another casualty that could be attributed to Firefox's ad tracker blocking software.

It is shocking to see how easily one can become surrounded by a bubble of similar opinions on Twitter. All opposing content is virtually drowned out of existence and replaced by reaffirming viewpoints from like-minded individuals. This can be an extremely precarious situation if given to the wrong kind of person.

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