So a funny thing happened yesterday.  I was attending the Chienbäse in Liestal, a traditional procession in a town near Basel where townsfolk parade burning torches and wagons through town as part of the Fasnacht celebrations. Now, let me hand you over to my Google+ post for the next part of the story…

So yes, my pictures of a Swiss folk festival have been subjected not so much to “Auto-Awesome” as to “Auto-Warzone”.

Amusing though this is, it got me thinking. It’s an accepted truth that gets trotted out every time there is a popular reality show on TV that whoever controls the final edit controls the story. Segments can be presented out of order and soundbites out of context so as to tell a story that is vastly different from what actually went on. But it’s not just on TV – every day on the web we are exposed to an edited version of reality that helps to shape our views of the world around us.

This editing is going on all around us at all sorts of levels and increasingly it’s carried out by machines, and most of it you probably don’t even notice. Whether it’s Facebook’s photo and comment filters blocking spammy posts, Google+ and Twitter suggesting people and communities to follow or even Amazon telling you which books to buy together, machines are telling you what you can see right now and what you should look at next. Most of the time we are more than happy with this – the web is a big place after all and having automated systems makes it much more manageable – but when Facebook start removing photos of breastfeeding that were flagged up by an algorithm or automatically censoring comments by people who don’t have a good writing skills it starts to be a bit more worrying. And if we are only ever automatically recommended to read points of view that are similar to our own then how is this impacting on our ability to understand and interact with people with a different culture or viewpoint?

I’m not sure what the answer is to all this, there’s probably a PhD or two in there if someone can get the funding. Leave your thoughts below and assuming I get out of the Liestal riot zone alive I’ll join the chat, whatever your viewpoint 😉

 


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