Adventures in Bubble Filters

Heads up. This post is worksafe, but it does acknowledge the existence of NSFW content in case you're paranoid about these kinds of things.

If you’re not familiar with your bubble on the Internet, it’s a fascinating concept. Basically, as you use various sites, they will try to profile you, figure out what you’re interested in, and suggest content they think will be relevant to those interests. A lot of people find this idea unnerving: invasion of privacy, lack of challenging ideas, etc.

I found myself exploring this idea earlier this week.

As you may know, my day job is developing for the Bombplates band website system. This means that I “Like” the Bombplates page of Facebook and go there pretty often. Usually, from a UI perspective, this means typing “Bomb” into the Facebook search bar and then clicking on the link.

This week, that experience changed somewhat. I started noticing a new page coming up in the search suggestions when I typed “Bomb” in. There was my test site that I use for development, the live Bombplates fan page, and HOLYCARPWHATISTHAT?!

Search results

That is, it turns out a fan page for a site dedicated to photos of semi/un-clothed women. I commented on this on Twitter and was promptly told by one of my friends that he did not get these results. This was despite the fact that he already “Likes” Suicide Girls.

Strange... Alright. Let’s look into my bubble and try to find out why I’m getting this result and my friend isn’t. Time to make some test accounts!

First, let’s make a generic male account and see what his results are:

New results

Ok. That seems reasonable. Most dudes are into pictures of unclad women. But there is one notable exception to that.

Turning gay

That’s the ticket! Now that my account is gay, they’re sure to change that bubble.

That was unexpected

Or not. Well... Let’s try a new tactic. What will they do with a female account?

I named this image "heterosexism," but that's not what that word means

What do you mean I can’t create a female account named Stephen? What kind of sexists are they at Facebook!

Oh. Never mind. It was the name “Second” they didn’t like. Ok. I can buy that. Well, I’ll be marrying these accounts anyway; might as well change the name now.
Anyway, so we’re a girl now. What results does she get?

Female search

Really? Ok. Hold on. Let’s make sure Facebook knows she’s into dudes.

Straight female

And now?

Straight search

Seriously?!

Fine. Well, the one big difference between my friend and me that seems relevant here is that he’s married. Maybe Facebook has a policy of assuming that all single people are into porn and trying not to wreck homes by hiding it from couples.

Getting married 1
Getting married 2

Alright! We’re married now!

Home wrecker!

COME ON!

Fine. One last thing to try.

Gender reassignment

Alright. Both accounts are men, interested only in men, and actually married to each other. (Very progressive to allow that, FB.)

That's it

Really? Fine.

Well here’s what I’ve learned from this: bubble filters are a thing. Maybe they’re not as effective as those of us who are paranoid claim them to be or the folks who are trying to sell us stuff want them to be. Maybe they’re worth worrying about. Maybe they’re not.

And also, since they’re not violating the ToS, I’m stuck seeing this stupid porn site in my Facebook search results.

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