If you go on any social media site today you are likely going to see posts, pictures, and videos of various different and unique things that interest you. But why is Facebook so good at keeping you interested and on their site? The biggest reason is an algorithm that Facebook, and all social media sites, chooses what you see. This algorithm is said to be based on your interests and what you click on or like, but, as many of us have experienced, sometimes it will show us stuff that we were only thinking or talking about. This has led to a ton of people turning off their microphones and cameras when using these sites to ensure they aren’t listening or watching them. The only reason I bring this up is that this algorithm has turned into a key component in shaping our ideas about the people we know and the world around us. I will provide a couple very obvious examples of this.
The first example is politics. If you went to any social media site you would likely see a lot of extremely strong viewpoints from either the left or the right, and a lot of these views you likely line up with. This is not an accident. This is what the algorithm does, it provides you with the post that you are most likely to engage with and the ideas that you are most likely going to agree with. On the surface you can ask the questions; isn’t that what the algorithm is supposed to do and why would I want to see the information I don’t agree with? The answer to the first question is yes, but what is that doing? When you only see the side that you agree with you tend to categorize yourself alongside with that belief structure. This leads to there being an incredible political divide that doesn’t actually exist. When you are on the left and you see only leftist ideas or when you are on the right and you only see conservative ideas it leads to a disassociation from the actual truth. To break it down further it is very hard to see that another side even exists when you are only being fed the things that you agree with, and as I stated before the political divide this creates forces people to feel as though they are far left or far right when in reality most of us are very close to the center with a few radical extremes on either side. If we could grasp that what you are seeing on these sites isn’t a reality, but instead a very vocal minority from the extremes of each side trying to push an agenda, then we would be able to have more conversations about real ideas instead of just arguing and yelling at each other while nothing gets done.
Another example is your interests. Have you ever been just thinking about a show or talking to your friend about something and then it randomly pops up on your feed the next day? This is how good Facebook is at knowing you. It takes all the information you provide it with (likes, comments, conversations, videos, etc.) to know exactly what you are going to want to see next. This is how we are so easily coaxed into staying on these sights for not just hours, but all day! It isn’t random, the algorithm is actually so good that Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, issued an official apology to the people of the world saying, “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.” Hearing the man that created Facebook say something like that sent chills down my spine. He knows we are being divided more and more every day by this technological demon, but the problem now falls on us to deal with. We as a society need to understand how these sites can be used positively and negatively so that they cannot be used against us to sway our ideas and change our individuality. Learning how we all are affected by these sites will lead to better decision making when online alongside developing an understanding of opposing ideas. Not right ideas, not wrong ideas, just ideas.
If we all took strides to seek out the other side of the argument then our world would be very less divided…