Written by Jamie Davies
Following the questioning of Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, where the executive was asked to go into detail on the way the social media giant targets users with advertising and content, we’ve been questioning whether consuming news through the platform is a good idea.
Last year the Pew Research Centre in Washington produced a report which estimates 45% of US adults use Facebook for news, with half of Facebook’s news users get news from that social media site alone. As more digitally native consumers enter adulthood, this reliance on social media will almost undoubtedly increase.
The basic concept of social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter is to put the right information in front of you at the right time. This can be achieved through various different means, whether it is the user signing up to notifications or advertisers proactively contacting them through preferences set by the user, but in both cases content the user wants is consumed. This is not healthy.
Some news is not nice. It isn’t pleasant, enjoyable or engaging. Sometimes it shocks, offends and horrifies. Current affairs are not supposed to make you feel good about yourself all the time, or put you in a good mood. But this is no reason to shut the door to bad news. Being aware is critically important.
Another worrying aspect is the reconfirmation of a position. This is the problem with social media, it shows you what you want to see. Users sign up to pages, or follow certain individuals and organizations, which informs the platform about your interests. These interests are used to create profiles which the platform uses to create a personalised content stream. It produces an echo chamber where your opinion is enforced and you are protected from opinions or events which you do not agree with.
Unfortunately this is not how a mature individual should develop. Conflicting opinions help an individual form a position, and an individual’s opinion should only be formed when all positions are considered. This might sound condescending, but it is true. Why should someone’s opinion be valid when it is only developed by one side of the argument? Such scenarios create blind followers and an ill-informed population.
Creating an individual who is so entrenched in a specific opinion is a dangerous game. Just to clarify, if that individual is entrenched because they have evaluated all the available information and strongly position themselves on one side of the argument is fine, but that is not what social media is. Social media panders to the whims of the user, offering a partisan view on current affairs. This in itself could be considered undemocratic.
Social media has done wonderful things for society on the whole, but the detrimental impact of certain aspects are yet to be considered. For those who consider Facebook or Twitter an effective means to remain informed, have a think about whether your Facebook preferences would have including the Me Too campaign, Charlie Hebdo shooting or any news relating to the Windrush generation. These are important news stories that might not have fit neatly into the content algorithm when this weekend’s football scores, Prince Louis of Cambridge or other frivolous articles better suit your preferences.