By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
You’ll never understand my politics from social media.
Social media has a pigeon-holing effect that dangerously summarizes and condescendingly panders to our perceived beliefs based on what we post and who we friend. We get served what we believe and believe what we’re served in a circular conversation that reinforces our perceived beliefs and prejudices. That’s dangerous.
I notice an interesting phenomenon; social media’s algorithms can’t decode my own political orientations. They don’t fit any current analytical algorithm. The scary thing is, my political beliefs aren’t that complex.
Because Facebook’s automated analytics cannot decide if I am a republican or democrat, a Trump supporter or Trump critic, wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated, support gender rights or not- it goes wild. I’m served the most disjointed cocktail of content that ranges from politics across the entire left-right spectrum to pages showing animal rights and hunting groups. Facebook just doesn’t get me. It alternately believes I am gay, straight, old, young, racist, liberal, married and single, a tree hugger and a big game hunter.
This is important to consider because Facebook’s penchant for pigeon-holing our personal politics continues to draw a wedge between us during a time when global culture needs just the opposite. What Zuckerberg created was meant to unite us, but has in fact counted us off in convenient groups that force us to pick a team with seemingly like-minded people. It reinforces our beliefs, fails to challenge us, convinces us we are part of a majority and panders to group-think. As Zuckerberg once said, “The users are the product”, and Facebook is trying desperately to package the product in convenient, easy-open shrink-wrapped groups to sell things to.
In this rush to package its users Facebook does not foster individual thought. It’s too hard to market to.
The ancillary effect is that my republican conservative friends believe I am a defacto liberal, and my liberal friends believe I am an ultra-right leaning conservative. I’ve met people in person I’ve gotten to know on Facebook who told me things like, “Well, because you are a Trump supporter…” and also tell me, “Because you’re a liberal…”.
It’s actually not all that complicated. It’s that Facebook’s algorithms are actually pretty lazy.
The truth is, I decide issues on an ala carte basis congruent with my personal values. Facebook doesn’t have an algorithm for personal values, only for groupthink. Therein lies its most dangerous feature- it (tries to) pigeon hole us and fails to challenge us. It is the salesman in the room who agrees with everything everyone says, and practices the “knock ‘em where they lean” doctrine of attraction. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you why it’s the best.”
Our society has suffered from dumbing-down, speeding up and tuning out of any conversation or idea more than three sentences. If it can’t be expressed and evaluated in a Tweet, a post or a picture, then people don’t have time for it.
“Resisting the online inertia that pulls us into groupthink is cornerstone to responsible use of social media.”
Resisting the online inertia that pulls us into groupthink is cornerstone to responsible use of social media, and it isn’t always easy- especially when friends are involved. Mark Zuckerberg created what may be the greatest invention in human history since the Gutenberg Press, and exactly the like the first printing press used to stamp out bibles to adjudicate our belief sets, it’s up to us to decide how to best use it rather than being lulled into its ever-increasing suction of group-think.
Tom Demerly is a feature writer and analyst from Dearborn, Michigan.