If you were blindsided by the results of the US elections, it’s probably because you relied on your social media news feed for your news.
I woke up this morning fully expecting to watch the election returns from the United States show a strong mandate for Hillary Clinton. But if you were like me, by midday (Asia time / +8 GMT) you had the biggest shock of your life as you realized that Donald Trump was pulling away to victory.
This election was a hard reminder that we all live in our respective social media echo chambers. I never seriously considered the possibility that Trump might actually win because of what I had seen and read daily in my Facebook news feed in the months leading up to the election. I read with glee the news coverage and polls describing Clinton’s gains. I relished the anti-Trump discourse of my friends in the US. I laughed at the nightly endless stream of comedians making jokes as if Trump had already lost. But the truth was, just like for so many of us who were incredulous at the prospect of a Trump win, the widespread support that Trump enjoyed was mostly invisible to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to demonize Facebook nor blame them for my own myopia. Facebook algorithms are simply doing what they were designed to do: display content on your news feed you like or are inclined to interact with while hiding the stuff you are less likely to enjoy. Facebook tells me I have over a thousand “friends” but when I look closely, my news feed is populated by the same two dozen or so people.
The truth is, I’ve been lazy. Facebook has replaced the role that the front page of the daily newspaper or the evening news program used to play. I’ve relied on my daily Facebook habit to keep me informed to the point where my news feed has been my — apparently extremely narrow — window to the world. I realize that mistake and here’s what I’m doing about it:
First, I’m going to start purging news sites from my Facebook feed. (Click on that downward arrow on the upper right of a post and “Hide all from [news source].”) Facebook’s algorithm will no longer curate the news for me.
Second, I’m going back to reading newspapers. (Or, more precisely, news websites.) I’m bookmarking several news sites that I aim to check daily. The selection is designed to offer as broad a view as possible, including sources whose political views I don’t agree with: not only CNN but also Fox News, not only the New York Times but also the Drudge Report.
Finally, I’m actually stepping away from Facebook for a while. I’ve removed its app from my smartphone. I’m going to stop making it my the first stop. Facebook is still the best way of keeping track of my friends and relatives from all over the world so I won’t be abandoning it completely but I will be drastically reducing the amount of time I spend with it.
That might be disappointing for my friends who tell me they enjoy the media and opinions I regularly share (and to paraphrase the President-elect of the United States of America, I don’t mean this in a braggadocious way) but if you want to know what’s on my mind…you’ll just have to find out in person.