Monday, 20 June 2011

The knowledge-bubble trap worsens

Bubbly bubble
I posted a while back about the way we tend to create knowledge silos in social media, giving the example below of knowledge related to BP during the oil spill.
I looked at the BP corporate site and the Boycott BP site. Two more polarised communities it would be impossible to find, although conversations within the communities on both sites were focused on the same topic. Both sites were full of conversation about the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, and BP’s role in the spill and the clean-up. While the BP America community were talking about the technical details of the clean-up and the unprecedented resources and skills being deployed by BP, the Boycott BP community (more than 30 times larger than the community on the BP America site) were sharing horror stories about alleged breaches of safety and responsibility  ...... There was no dialogue - just a parallel separate pair of incompatible group monologues; loads of opinionated people agreeing with each other.
I went on to talk about how this development (largely driven by comfort and self-esteem) creates group-think, which is a kind of knowledge bubble. As I pointed out in my blog post on bursting the knowledge bubbles, this is a very dangerous situation. It has been argued that knowledge bubbles may have been behind many disasters, such as the lack of recognition of the imminence of Bin Laden's plans to attack the USA, for example.

Now it seems these bubbles are getting worse. In the UK Sunday Times yesterday, Bryan Appleyard (one of my favourite journalists - very perceptive, very articulate) reviewed The Filter Bubble - what the Internet is hiding from you. This book talks bout how search engines and social network sites increasingly send you results and notifications which are tailored to their view of what interests you. This is driven by your search history and by the groups you already belong to, so increasingly these results are becoming less and less objectives. The author gives this example (to me - strikingly familiar);
"While the BP Oil Spill was in progress last year has asked two friends to type "BP" into Google. One got investment information on the front page; the other news of the spill"
There were other filters mentioned, such as the way Facebook sent him news from his liberal friends (having identified him as a liberal" while filtering out news of conservative friends.  To some extent, it may be useful to be fed information that interests us. The danger comes when it reinforces the knowledge bubble, and we are fed only messages that we are expected to agree with. As Jaron Lanier, author of " You are not a gadget
"People tend to get into this echo chamber where more and more of what they see conforms to the idea of who some software thinks they are".
So not only do people create silos and knowledge bubbles on social media, the personalisation capability of software may reinforce those bubbles.

As knowledge managers in business, we need to recognise the risk of knowledge bubbles and echo chambers, specifically of making wrong decisions because we don't have a balanced view (see Deadly Decisions - how false knowledge sunk the titanic ... for scary examples). I reiterate what I said below in the group think post
"We cannot afford plural communities covering the same topic. There needs to be one community covering knowledge management, not 100. There needs to be one community covering oil-spill recovery, not two highly polarised ones. Then within each topic, disagreement needs to be sought and explored, in service of finding the truth. This is part of the role of the community facilitator - the role of allowing a diversity of opinion, and promoting and facilitating the dialogue that allows this diversity to be explored and resolved".
And to this I would add
"We need to be very careful of personalised search results which verge towards subjectivity. Wherever possible, a person should receive all search results relevant to a topic, whether they support the current viewpoint of the searcher, or are diametrically opposed".
It is only by seeing all sides of a question, that we can hope to come to knowledge of the truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to read this clever thought. Congrats. BP´s case: Conflict (winner/loser) is worse than consensus/dialogue because the model established and preponderant - dicotomic - is difficult to break. But we need to try with education. @grillojotae

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