Lately there’s been a lot of talk about how Facebook encourages us to stay inside our own little echo chambers. Of course, if you’re even moderately aware of the world around you, you sense that your feed is custom-made for you, right down to showing you ads for whatever you just bought on Facebook. Still, I was a little surprised when I noticed something the other day.
PBS Newshour was sharing a live feed of President Obama talking about something. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yet, but if you’re watching a live feed and you “like” it or something like that, you’ll see a teensy little icon of your profile picture turning into an icon and then floating across the screen. You’ll also see other little icons floating along as other people react. And of course you always see the totals of how many people “like” or “love” or “haha” or “angry” or “wow” something for anything, right? Or so I thought, but apparently I was wrong.
You can see that there were a bunch of little angry icons (with the red foreheads) floating across the screen, representing all those folks who presumably would rather never hear our president speak (and I empathize, for sure, since it’s a possibility that I will come down with the same affliction in a few weeks). However, none of them were tallied up on the status for me. Instead, I just saw that a whole bunch of people clicked “love,” “like,” or “sad.” I guess that Facebook is trying not to hurt my feelings about the fact that tons of people get angry every time they see Obama? Do they think I haven’t noticed this out in the world? Anyway, I thought it was weird, and an instance in which Facebook isn’t just passing along fake news, but creating fake news.
Of course, all those algorithms are imperfect, and sometimes you get suggestions that are just plain bad, like that you should become friends with that kid you hated in high school. In my case, Facebook has persistently suggested that I should join an LGBT group. Is that because I post enough girl-power and feminist stuff that the algorithms think I’m a lesbian? Au contraire! Because this is the “LGBT=Liquor Guns Bacon and Tits” private group. Which I find completely offensive. Because not only do they neglect to include the Oxford comma, there are no commas included in this series at all. But also? Just ew. I will admit that I’m partial to tequila and I will eat bacon when it is cooked to perfection and I have (mostly) made peace with the girls. Still, I don’t think that this group is the best fit for me.
Most recently, that group was suggested to me along with a “No Dakota Access Pipeline” group, and I had to wonder: if we imagine all of Facebook’s participants as a Venn diagram, how many people could truly fit into that subset which both opposes the Dakota Access Pipeline and, at the same time, feels the need to actively promote liquor, guns, bacon, and tits? I mean, I just feel like liquor, guns, bacon, and tits are doing quite well without any serious advocacy work at all. But I suppose that that’s because of my biased Facebook feed, which leaves me tragically ignorant of the threats against these great American treasure.