Social media: what now?

The heat’s on high for Facebook these days, as Mark Zuckerberg & co. reflect on their perceived influence in the 2016 election.

I myself have been aggravated by Facebook’s obnoxious “trending” feature more often than not (especially when a real news story is ongoing, it’s frustrating to see “Kylie Jenner” and “Hairspray” at the top of my feed). But like many American Facebook users, I didn’t realize how far its disservice went. In the waning hours of November 8th, the social media giant’s executives apparently used their own group chat to discuss “accusations that it helped spread misinformation and fake news stories that influenced how the American electorate voted.

It’s between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, their algorithms are working: people are viewing content aligned with the rest of their internet habits and interests. But if their news is not only biased, but unmistakably wrong, whose job is it to set the record straight? Is that censorship, or a public service? Is it their responsibility or the line in the sand?

Post-election data shows that Trump had by far the most presence and popularity on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a metric the polls haven’t figured out how to qualify, but in 2016 clearly one of the most important information sets to consider. Voters seem to be taking this content without a granule of salt, but there’s also no one at the helm to correct them. Something has to change, but who will have to step up?


Facebook circa 2004

Cal Newport at the Times wants you to sign off altogether. It’s a compelling argument: the stimuli from all 23290924 of our social media outlets keeps us from being unprejudiced, unique, and most importantly productive, especially in a time when young professionals obsess over their personal “brand.” Newport isn’t talking about social media as a news source, but there’s perhaps a veiled criticism that encompasses the rest of today’s chatter. Social media is distracting us from focusing on “real” work, on generating content and producing quality work that doesn’t rely on hashtags to legitimize it.

His best advice for TheFacebook may be to remember its roots: a straightforward, uncluttered platform to keep college friends up-to-date on your relationship status. Leave the news-sharing and information-aggregating to the reporters, the fact-checkers – the professionals.

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