Internet Science & Technology
Is the social media structure a giant loop which rather than connecting us to the world, is dividing us into smaller disconnected bubbles?
"Bring the world close together" - is what the mission statement of the social media giant Facebook reads. What happened is, Facebook became a giant loop which rather than connecting us to the world, is dividing us into smaller disconnected bubbles. Facebook's news feed works in the way that the more you engage with post from a particular user or a page, the more their posts are shown to you.
So, what is the problem with that? We like their content, and at the same time we dislike a lot of other stuff, so Facebook is trying to show us posts which we like and is blocking those which we don't. Here's the catch, we hardly have leisure time and whenever we catch a break, we open our news feed often. With posts from only a certain cluster of people and pages, the same kind of topics occupy our news feed and we interact only with this certain group. This causes our behavior to change and our interaction grows cutting us from the rest of the world. What is worse is that, engagement on Facebook posts are measured in terms of likes, shares and comments, so if people react to a post of a car-crash, posts of car crash are all over our feed. At Facebook's scale with these kind of data, it becomes very easy to influence our behaviour.
With the new Google feeds, a solution is just round the corner. We now see posts based on our interests without having to pledge allegiance to the source. We don't have to be friends with anyone or manually follow publishers. And here engagement isn't measured in likes. The feed shows us content from our subscriptions(obviously), our friends, based on our search history, what's happening around the town or the world and most importantly the content which we are interested in. The content is not from a certain group of publishers but all publishers in general. As our interests bend over time, if we stop searching for a specific topic, the feed will adjust and curate itself based on our interests. This solution seems to have addressed the problem that was responsible for the death of Google Plus.
The problem of specific content does not lie only with Facebook, but also with all the other social networks, where the 'smart' algorithms optimize the feeds for better engagement. The problems with these feeds are numerous. 'Fake news' is not a new term. Despite of all the hard work Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and all others are putting up, the problem doesn't seem to stop. Just the other day there was a post which read out 'Rowan Atkinson dead'.
The social networks can not be blamed for this problem. The current social structure has a lot of positives and nothing like this ever existed before. This structure has led to a massive global experiment with some excellent outcomes. But these problems need to be addressed. With the great outcomes there has also been a lot of negatives. It's time that the facts are acknowledged and measures are taken to curb these problems. And what comes as a matter of relief is that according to recent comments of the Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook is working on a newer way to connect people whom we should know as mentors. We can certainly hope that this is the beginning of a new understanding that the focus on optimization for engagement is harmful to the users and the future of this structure will be better.
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