It’s no secret that information is more accessible and available than it ever has been in human history. With the advent of the Internet and the technological revolution we have been witnessing the past several years, people are able to find the answer to most lingering questions they have without even having to commit that question to text (shout out to the Siris and Alexas of the world.)
We are in a very interesting time in which the flow of information is quick, copious and, most importantly for this column, constant.
This is exemplified by social media. These fun little time-wasters have been heralded as unique tools to use to become connected with other people across the world and to have, in some cases, direct access to significant people, brands and companies that we may have never been able to interact with. Through these people and pages, we can broaden our perspectives, learn new things and gain a larger amount of understanding in ways that were not possible before the existence of the Internet. As we have accumulated all of these friends and followers, the stream of information falling into our feeds begins to settle until it gets to a comfortable point.
Most of us have had social media apps for so long that we have everything personalized almost to a disturbing level. We’ve got all of the people we like hearing from still there. We’ve got all of the annoying people, but not so annoying that we want to show disrespect by removing them completely, blocked and avoided. We’ve got our news organizations that we like to see in our feeds with everything from personalized politics to personalized sports teams to your personal favorite picture of Jeff Goldblum every day (look it up, that’s a real Facebook page.)
Every time we click on something, Zuckerberg’s algorithm kicks in, and Facebook makes an attempt to remove content that it deems not worth our time due to our interests and instead shows us articles and headlines that more nicely fit our current beliefs – beliefs, mind you, that were assumed based on clicks.
When it is described like that, does social media really provide the perspective broadening platform that would have been expected?
Part of the reasoning for this, which will shock literally no one, is the creepy business practice of targeted advertising. If there is anything I’ve learned from my various courses as a communication major, it is that ads run the world. As a capitalistic society, everything that is popular will end up trying to sell you something.
Additionally, it is nearly impossible under this system to passively gain adequate information to partake in any kind of civil discourse. I believe that this is one of the reasons why our country is becoming further divided underneath the presidency of Donald Trump.
People have been passively feeding Facebook information for so long now that their pages have become nothing but narrowed viewpoints and ads tailor-made for each individual. As our feeds become more and more narrow to better “fit” what we want to see, the opposing side of our beliefs begins to become harder and harder to understand.
Democracy doesn’t really take too kindly to a system like this. Democracy is all about choice. Knowing that we are free to dig as much or as little as we want to find out what ideals and beliefs make us the most comfortable is part of the reason why a country like America is so tantalizing.
However, the new, vast amount of information available has only made us want to shelter ourselves from that light even further. Very few people will make an effort to do research before, for example, voting. Some people will do this, but others will justify their lack of preparedness as not being unprepared at all, citing X, Y and Z articles that so-and-so shared from a sponsored post on Facebook that describe exactly why anyone who voted for Donald Trump is a racist.
Don’t continue the trend of kind but lazy people letting the evil but motivated people walk all over us and sculpt us into believing what they want. Try to learn as much as you can from as many different (and I stress the word “different”) sources before automatically going with what your social media feed tells you. Ask yourself questions, and don’t sell yourself short.
Social media has been so entrenched in our society over the last decade that it will have you believe that it is now a necessary function in our everyday lives.
Don’t let your beliefs be dictated by an algorithm.