An algorithm is the formula used by a search engine to steer a request for information. They are
different for every search engine, highly secret and determine the significance or ranking of a
Merkel has joined a growing number of critics who have highlighted the dangers of receiving
information that confirms an existing opinion or is recommended by people with similar ideas.
“This is a development that we need to pay careful attention to,” she told the conference,
adding that a healthy democracy was dependent on people being confronted by opposing ideas.
“The big internet platforms, through their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle which
diverse media must pass through [to access their users],” she said.
There has been increasing concern about so-called filter bubbles and echo chambers – the result
of an internet search in which an algorithm supposes the information someone would like to see
based on previous searches, as well as information it might have about their location or preferences
– in the light of the growing strength of populist movements in Europe, the Brexit vote in the UK
and the rise of Donald Trump in the US. This month, President Barack Obama’s former social media
adviser Caleb Gardner highlighted the danger of filter bubbles – a phrase invented by the internet
activist Eli Pariser.
“More likely than not, you get your news from Facebook,” Gardner told students at Northwestern
University in Illinois. “Forty-four per cent of US adults get news on the site, and 61% of millennials …
if that doesn’t frighten you, you don’t know enough about Facebook’s algorithm. If you have a parent
who’s a Trump supporter, they are seeing a completely different set of news items than you are.”