Why do I have to be the asshole here? There has been endless coverage of this Facebook trending news bias debacle yet I can barely find a single sentiment adequately undressing the scariest issue underlying the events. If you’re relying on a pill to lose weight, you’re probably lazy; if you’re relying on movies to understand cultures, you’re disconnected; and if you’re relying on Facebook to gain a balanced interpretation of world events, you’re stupid. And you’re allowed to be stupid – nobody is angry at you – but this many people in positions of influence shouldn’t be allowed to pretend like stupid is the acceptable standard.
If there has ever been proof that the collective intellectual condition of a country is about to clear the limbo stick, it is taking widespread offense to the impartiality merits of a box of links in the right column of a fucking social media site because global perspective has been compromised.
I don’t care what Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be. I understand that in 2013, Zuckerberg likened his portal / network / assistant / forum / feed to electricity, implying, as Vauhini Vara points out in her excellent article, that Facebook wants to reach the indispensable standard of a utility. I understand that as an aspiring utility, and as a company that claims information is surfaced based on impartial algorithms determining “…topics that have recently become popular on Facebook”, you wouldn’t expect some bozo to be cherry-picking stories after their smoke break. I understand that Facebook, with a combination of crowdsourcing and syndication, is a source for news, just like bartenders are a source for advice.
But if you live in a country where 98% of people have access to internet outside the suppression of “cyberspace sovereignty” and a site you joined to keep friends, creep strangers and follow brands is the source of your news, then we need to be worried about a cognitively broken culture, not an ideologically broken widget.
I just went to my Facebook Homepage. This is what I saw:
You know what was underneath all that? A video of a dog taking 58 seconds to crawl out of a bed, a selfie of a chick in her car complaining about wet hair, an embedded ad for a glow-in-the-dark-DJ-run, and somebody’s post of a video review for an ice cream parlor that makes “ice cream waffle tacos”.
In what fucking galaxy does that earn a broad endorsement as, in the words of the breaking Gizmodo story, a “highly-influential” news source?
When we are emphatically reminded that “63% of Facebook users get news from the site and 40% say it’s an important news source”, how is the most pressing set of primary reactions a mix of individual Senators publicly demanding more functional transparency from a social media platform, a goofy tech billionaire freaking out and going on a Republican hand-job binge, and journalists caroling bloated reminders that people are biased, institutions are biased, and algorithms made by people in institutions are biased? Could we possibly be doing a better job at missing the bigger picture?
Everyone is worried about the CEO of a publicly traded shits-n-giggles platform keeping promises about news stories that are wedged between a photo of my cousin’s lunch and a bulletin confirming that Heather likes pandas. I’m worried that in 20 years, nobody will be able to wipe their ass without watching a YouTube video. I’m worried that in 5 years, everybody will think that refreshing a stream of semi-consciousness and curated narcissism qualifies as “research”. I’m worried that right now, there’s a really powerful country dripping with idiots and even in the midst of a presidential election, nobody is having a convincing conversation about holistic education reform.
Thank God for Facebook. I love Facebook. Jumping around to all kinds of different publications and reading about this stuff and writing about this stuff gets me all hopped up and stressed out. Sometimes, I just need to slow down, turn off my brain, and spend fifteen minutes flipping through pictures of hot chicks petting tigers.
C-SPAN sucks for that.
Ben is a Toronto-based writer and public speaker with more than a soft spot for 90s hip hop. He has spent over 10 years in business & tech, more than 20 in the arts, and an entire lifetime in a state of perpetual judgment (highly recommended). He is the author of the blogs This Is Your Brain on Dating and Love Gone Cray and can be found pontificating on Thought Catalog, Notable.ca, The Toronto Standard, Offline Magazine, Gasm.org and Huffington Post.
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