Don’t blame Facebook for the type of content that we see.
There was a lot of conversation this week about what Facebook does (and does not do) to control the content that we see. Facebook was accused of suppressing conservative news, and how it hits the newsfeed. Interesting. In a world where people are shunning traditional news outlets (newspapers, magazines, radio, etc…) and turning to social media for their news, there is a sudden expectation (demand?) that a social media platform should have the same moral, ethical and social contracts that news organizations have had within our society. Should Facebook suddenly ensure that content (of all shapes and political sizes) get their own fair share of distribution? Is that their business model? Is that their moral obligation? Is that their business model? No. No it is not (for the time being).
Social media is not news. You don’t follow unbiased sources.
Back when social media took hold (over a decade ago), I had written several pieces about how – in a world where we’re all going to be more connected – our world view will shrink and become more repressive than ever. How so? With so many new voices online (and places to connect), how can our world view shrink? For years, we got our news from news outlets. While these outlets may have had a political slant, they still delivered various kinds of news, from various sources, and from various parts of our world. You could just love the sports section of your local newspaper, but still whip through (and be exposed to) a bunch of headlines and issues in the world. When we were not buried in our smartphones (in our social feeds), we stumbled across news sources in places like our cars (radio) or while watching television (the news), etc… Once the web browser took hold, we had “internet portals” (remember those?) like AOL and Yahoo. Their homepages dominated the web, as millions of people would turn to their news-driven homepages that were carefully curated (often mixed with original news) from experiences editors. Then, came customization. Customization allowed consumers to choose the type of content that they wanted to see. You could dump everything from your homepage except for the sports (if that was your thing). As social media took over, we took this customization to a whole other level. Now, we’re not just choosing sports, but people who only like the same teams that we do.
Sports is the analogy that leads us to this much larger problem and realization.
It’s not that Facebook is (or ins’t) suppressing conservative news that should be the eye-opener here, it’s that you – yes, you! – are suppressing your world view, every single day that you continue to follow only a small, specific and like-minded group of friends, connections and likes. Facebook could double-dose on conservative news, but if your feed is full of people with an opposing view, the odds of you seeing it is minimal to non-non-existant.
Our narrowing world view is on you.
When things were much more heated in the Middle East, their was a consensus that one side was winning the PR and news battle. I remember having people pull me aside and ask how this is possible? Their newsfeeds clearly demonstrated the opposite. These smart, educated and well-informed individuals didn’t understand that they were only following people who shared a similar point of view (who only wanted to see one side). They had seen no counter-views in their newsfeed. And, after all, this newsfeed is becoming their only perspective of the world (which includes the limited number of people that they follow, and how natural and tribal it is to follow those who are most like you). There is no solving this problem. Facebook (and other social media channels) can amp up the content, distribution and more, but if all you’re doing is following a group of likeminded people (who are most like you), we’re going to be left wondering where a depth of perspective and insight is going to come from. It’s not fair to blame Facebook for the choices that we’re all making.
Odds are that a truly world view will not be found in your newsfeed any time soon… and Facebook is not to blame. We are.