The More You Click Facebook’s “Like” Button, The More Insular Your News Feed Gets
I have a lot of suspicion about how much control I actually have over my own Facebook news feed, particularly after reading about how Facebook employees have used the feed’s behavior to influence real-life voting patterns. Some Facebook employees have even considered removing news items about candidates that they don’t like, which doesn’t sound that bad, until you remember that Facebook has also deliberately experimented with users’ emotions in the past via the news feed. Still, we have one vestige of control over the Facebook news feed, and it’s the “Like” button. Have you been “Liking” responsibly?
If you’re similar to me, you click “Like” without a thought. Compelling news article? Like. Cute cat video? Like. Funny joke? Like. I only click “Like” on the stuff I, uh, like. But every time I do that, I’m teaching Facebook what kinds of content to show to me, and teaching it to never show me content that I won’t like. Theoretically, this is good, because then I don’t get annoyed by seeing my friends post about baseball or whatever. But it’s also bad, because sometimes, it would behoove me to be a little more understanding about the fact that many people enjoy baseball. I could stand to be a bit more open-minded, no? (BUT BASEBALL IS SO BORING ok ok I’m sorry that just slipped out.)
The Next Web has put together a collection of links to research about how our online reading habits, such as on social media news feeds, can either make us more open-minded (if we go outside of our comfort zone), or reinforce our existing beliefs (if we keep clicking “Like” only on the stuff we like). I tend to chafe against the accusation that my social media networks are an insular bubble, because I feel like I’m always trying to go outside my own personal experiences by reading articles by people who have nothing in common with me. I don’t like the idea of holing myself up in a secluded tower, reading only about people who are exactly like myself. Even if that means reading about baseball sometimes (this is, apparently, the worst possible type of story that I’m capable of imagining).
However, by clicking “Like” only on the stuff I like, I might be cutting off my opportunities to branch out … at least on Facebook. This isn’t a problem that I have on other social media, because I’m less affected by algorithms in other places (or so I have led myself to believe). Since I have Twitter’s algorithmic timeline turned off (here’s how to do that), I see everything, as opposed to just the stuff Twitter “wants” me to see. When it comes to my own RSS feeds, I can purposefully subscribe to lots of different types of perspectives and get outside my comfort zone. But on Facebook? Well … not so much.
No one is going to “Like” being uncomfortable. But sometimes it can be good for you, especially if you’re reading about someone who’s had experiences that are completely different from yours. Facebook is not typically known for providing that experience. If anything, Facebook seems designed to cushion its users in a soft blanket of viral videos.
I want to train my brain to be open-minded, but I don’t think that even I can convince myself to “Like” stuff that I don’t actually like, in the hopes that it’ll lead to a more interesting feed in the long term. So I guess I’ll just have to remind myself, once again, that even though Facebook looks like it’s giving me control, it actually isn’t … and if I want to read the news, the “news feed” is not the place to do it. The Facebook news feed will continue to lull me into a sense of complacency. So … good thing Twitter is designed for maximum discomfort, right? Clearly, that’s the only reason to have both.
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