Facebook Stifles Diversity of Opinion

I’ve started to take my own advice and am reducing my activity on the social network Facebook. Recently, I’ve noticed that Facebook intrinsically promotes a homogenization of opinion — posts about the same kittens, sunsets, food, and other inoffensive, bland material. The problem is two-fold: context and validation. Let me explain.

Context: When I joined Facebook 10 years ago, it was called “TheFacebook” and limited to 30 college campuses. Your peers generally had the same cultural interests, usually: studying, parties, and “random play”. When a friend posted about an event on campus, it was relevant, it was interesting, and you’d scroll among the comments to see if someone you liked was attending. The context and cultural background were similar. It was fun.

These days, Facebook circles encompass a wide variety of people. Your old college friends, coworkers, people from conferences, drunks from a night out, and your grandparents. The cultural similarity between these groups is nil. These people don’t know each other. But Facebook forces them all to interact within the same structure which assumes everyone knows each other with the same familiarity.

This interaction is forced when people who don’t know each other, but know you, interact on your Wall or in Groups. This interaction is forced when Facebook shows what you post to your friends on other people’s newsfeeds.

Here’s an example, inspired by actual events but modified for privacy:

Conservative Friend 1 posts on newsfeed: Obamacare is terrible. rabble! rabble! rabble!
Me: I feel you. I’ve spent hours on hold with Covered California only to be disconnected. This blows!
Liberal Friend 2, on his newsfeed, sees me post on Conservative Friend 1’s wall even though he is not friends with Conservative Friend 1
Liberal Friend 2 (based on previously expressed views) thinks: Eww. Republicans are selfish and evil. The ACA is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Liberal Friend 2 blocks me.
Me thinks: ??? I’m just commiserating with a friend!

It need not be about politics. I have an Australian friend who uses the word “cunt” as equivalent to an “LOL”. Generally this would be considered offensive, but because I know him and know he means no disrespect, I don’t feel the need to blow up when he calls me that. Of course, if he were to post on my Wall and a third party–especially a feminist who didn’t understand the context–saw that, she would likely erupt in a frothy rage. The subcommunication between the two of us is invisible to the third party. And to water down your communication by making it accessible to the lowest common denominator essentially leads to talking like a politician — saying everything but meaning nothing.

So, what is the solution? Post bland, inoffensive content like pictures of your Westie, Siamese, or special edition Pliny the Younger. Or maybe some reshares from George Takei or some inspirational platitudes. The real solution is to get off Facebook and use a platform more suited to interaction…such as a blog (where previous posts provide context), or better yet, a coffee table (where context can be spoken).

Validation: It’s rare that people consciously realize this. If the average person doesn’t consciously notice how their behavior is being subconsciously shaped to promote bland, boring content online, then how does it happen?

The infamous “like” button!

FB Thumb

Let us assume you have 100 friends:

  • 40% of your friends like kittens (meow)
  • 30% of your friends like food (yum)
  • 20% of your friends like Ron Paul (screw quantitative easing!)
  • 10% of your friends like veganism (have you seen those factory farms?)

Let us also assume the following (these won’t add up to 100%):

  • 1% of your friends HATE** kittens (puppies are the one true pet)
  • 2% of your friends HATE** food (possibly on a diet)
  • 15% of your friends HATE** Ron Paul (those friends are government employees)
  • 10% of your friends HATE** veganism (medium-rare steak, cast iron pan, a little Montreal seasoning, butter…mmm I’m losing my impartiality)

**to the point where they block or unfollow you

Given these hypothetical statistics, what you get the most positive feedback for posting over time? Politically correct, boring, inoffensive, G-rated, bland content. Such content will generate the most “likes” and the least amount of blocks/unfollows. Most people don’t consciously pay attention to this, posting whatever strikes their fancy. However subconsciously, the behavior of an average person is shaped to seek validation. This can be demonstrated by the increase of those resharing pre-packaged viral content from Buzzfeed/Upworthy/etc.

But being attracted to a blog such as this one, you might be considering yourself above-average. There is an exception to this validation cycle, I found in those whose entire identity is polarizing to the point they draw in numerous supporters and an equal amount of haters. Examples I have seen include vegan or paleo advocates, religious conservative figures, radical capitalists or communists, men’s rights advocates, spiritual energy workers and other “against the grain” types. They have a singular focus — their “cause” — and anyone who detracts from it has no place in their lives whatsoever. If this applies to you, consider forging onward and viewing your haters, blockers, and unfollowers as small victories (people who were exposed to your truth and couldn’t handle it) rather than annoyances.