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Citizens Breaking Out of Filter Bubbles: Urban Screens as Civic Media

December 06, 2016 by Marcus Foth, Martin Tomitsch, Laura Forlano, Matthias Hank Haeusler, Christine Satchell

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Social media platforms risk polarising public opinions by employing proprietary algorithms that produce filter bubbles and echo chambers. As a result, the ability of citizens and communities to engage in robust debate in the public sphere is diminished. In response, this paper highlights the capacity of urban interfaces, such as pervasive displays, to counteract this trend by exposing citizens to the socio-cultural diversity of the city. Engagement with different ideas, networks and communities is crucial to both innovation and the functioning of democracy. We discuss examples of urban interfaces designed to play a key role in fostering this engagement. Based on an analysis of works empirically-grounded in field observations and design research, we call for a theoretical framework that positions pervasive displays and other urban interfaces as civic media. We argue that when designed for more than wayfinding, advertisement or television broadcasts, urban screens as civic media can rectify some of the pitfalls of social media by allowing the polarised user to break out of their filter bubble and embrace the cultural diversity and richness of the city.