BBC to launch 'public service algorithm' to break down filter bubbles

Josh Hall's picture

The BBC is preparing to launch a 'public service algorithm' to accompany its Sounds app, intended to stop listeners becoming trapped in virtual echo chambers.

The project is intended to help listeners avoid the 'filter bubble' phenomenon, in which they only consume media that reinforces views or biases they already have.

Speaking at the British Library's Radio Festival yesterday, BBC director of radio and education James Purnell said that algorithmic content generation can be useful, but that it can limit the breadth of content that users consume.

He said: "“They learn from what you don’t like and stop recommending you the wrong things. And they can surface things similar to what you are listening to that you would not otherwise have found.

“But there is reason to be nervous about embracing algorithms in the way that streaming platforms do.

“The BBC rests on three foundations: to entertain, yes, but also to inform and educate. Most algorithms do the former, but not the latter. That’s why we are developing our own: a public service algorithm.

“This is not an algorithm that just gives you more of the same, but an algorithm built to surprise you, to direct your attention to new information, to different points of view, to pop your bubble.

“Algorithms are made in the image of their designers and can be biased against people who are different. But when they are designed with a public service purpose, they do not have to be biased and they do not have to create echo chambers – they can open them up.”

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