I’ll be the first to admit that I check Facebook just a little too much: whether it’s keeping up with the adventures of my friends studying abroad or wasting time watching videos of cute dogs, if I’m waiting in line for a bagel, you can bet I’ll be idly scrolling through my newsfeed.
This is all well and good, of course (how could a video of a dog and a deer being lifelong friends be anything other than good?), but more and more I find myself stumbling across news articles from sources I’ve never heard of–SubjectPolitics, the Conservative Post, the National Review, BigThink.com–that headline some pretty crazy headlines, usually political in nature. You know which articles I’m talking about; the one’s that claim Hillary Clinton is rigging the election, that Donald Trump’s family tried to hold an intervention for him. Depending on your political leanings, you find some of these headlines repulsive, some intriguing…but should we really be using these sites as our main source of media?
The New York Times doesn’t think so.
An August 24th article “Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine”, written by journalist John Herrman, reveals that while 44% of Americans get their news from Facebook, the social networking site really doesn’t provide the best news sources for its users. Instead, Facebook uses algorithms that target your newsfeed with the ads, news stories, and posts that seem to align most closely with your beliefs.
A reader unaware of this algorithm might be pleased–by the state of their newsfeed, the whole world seems to be aligned with their personal political platform–but Herrman writes that “…news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable.” So basically, Facebook is acting as a virtual echo chamber in which the liberal news bounces around the feeds of the card-carrying Democrats and conservative news is heard only by the Elephants, with the headlines becoming more and more outrageous to lure in those weak for some good clickbait.
So how do we escape the endless cycle?
The first step is easy: find your news outside of Facebook. It’s impossible to find a major news corporation that doesn’t have an app or website these days, so find a professional news source and click “subscribe”–or, better yet, find a few and avoid any unintentional bias that might filter its way in. If you’re the kind of college kid who finds themselves rushing to their first class with no time for a lengthy newspaper perusal over coffee, join a news rundown service like the DailySkimm, which will send you all the important stuff going on around the world in a handy daily email.
If you’re hooked on reading politically charged Facebook articles, however, feel free to continue your addiction: just remember to read everything with a critical eye. Apparently those literature classes on analyzing subtext will come in handy after all.