The American election that left much of the world feeling a sense of exhilaration, and the other half in a state of shock and despair.
While politics are debateable, what is clear is the time has come to move forward and stop complaining about the role of social media in our lives and take a deep, hard, look about whether or not it is time to cut certain platforms out of our lives.
To dismiss my thesis as one of a liberal, whose feelings are hurt after the election of Donald Trump, would not be accurate. I deleted my ‘real’ Facebook account six months ago (the one with childhood and university friends) in order to adapt my account to a different culture (Singapore’s, I am American). The result is my account is very Singaporean, and full of people I meet professionally, with little consideration of their politics.
In a strange way, the result is I have been lucky to avoid the political echo-chamber (but, later, I will explain I may be equally naive to think this true).
What I have seen is the problems of Facebook are not just apparent to those concerned about the future of the United States — there are voices coming from the Trump supporters who are expressing frustration that their exuberance was being drowned by an ocean of mourning.
To think that any of this is new would be silly, but in the last week the problem transformed from a criticism of social media to a realisation that — with the United States as a leading example — social media is pulling people so far apart that they cannot possibly understand their political opposition.
Techcrunch has a nice summation on the amplification mirror created by Facebook, they diagnosed the problem. I want to point out its applications — and why it justifies a complete reimagining of the social media giant.
As Trump proved, leaders like him have no need for mainstream media — they can quite literally ignore it (In the last months of the campaign, Trump would only give interviews to the GOP-friendly morning talk show Fox & Friends).
He spoke directly to conservative audiences and guided a message, regardless of if it was true, into right wing outlets like Breitbart. Which then goes into the ‘Trump bubble’, never to be viewed by liberals whilst gathering millions of clicks from conservatives.
The liberal version is just as strong, but Hillary Clinton failed at this strategy and did not leverage left-wing publications like the Huffington Post as effectively.
For example, Democrats (and the media) are angry right now because hindsight showed them they got caught in an elitist bubble and had no idea of the power of the Trump forces (Clinton got beat handily, it was not a close election).
In a campaign, this is a distasteful strategy with the consequence being the election of Donald Trump as President (which, it is important to reiterate, is supported by a chunk of people across the world).
But candidates are not Presidents and once that person rises to power, the ‘Facebook model’ for politics allows government to circumvent free press without actually directly attacking newsrooms.
In January, if Donald Trump continues his antagonistic relationship with the press, he will not follow Chinese strategy and censor The New York Times or The Washington Post.
He simply needs to give priority to Fox News and Breitbart, only give interviews to Fox & Friends and turn them into ‘state media’. The alternative publications would become ‘opposition media’.
Trump’s media department can then churn out whatever truths he so chooses to concoct and throw it into the ‘algorithm’. With Facebook as the main source of media for many people, the news then enters the platform as the delivery device the Trump administration will use to reach its target audience.
Do liberals in Los Angeles read this story? No, probably not. But Trump has proven he does not need that group of people to get elected.
With a candidate who has shown a propensity for outright lies (and I do not personally think this problem would be any different for Clinton), it becomes almost impossible for people to know the truth.
Maybe the Washington Post reveals a bomb like Watergate and it creates huge outrage…amongst Democrats. Because, Trump-friendly media will tone down the accusations, and his supporters — with the help of Facebook — will only read the controversy-lite.
To elaborate, I’ll use myself as an anecdote.
I feel a sense of personal embarassment that I did not see Trump coming. I was born in Trump-land, I grew up in Trump-land. Not only do I “know Trump supporters”, I would bet the majority of my social circle from high school (secondary school) voted for him.
I understand how they think, and I can see the logic behind the vote and I think most non-Americans would be surprised by how many Bernie-bros ended up in the Trump camp.
However, I have also been living in urban environments for the past five years, and because my politics are more Che Guevara than Richard Nixon, I forgot about my background and underestimated how serious ‘let’s throw a bomb in the system’ sentiment needed to be taken.
I missed it because I have built a social media environment built on urban culture — Hong Kong, Singapore, Oakland, California — and the now I practically never read Fox News. If I had been, I may have ‘remembered my roots’ to reach across the aisle and talk with a Trump supporter without condescension.
Ten years ago (heck, even five years ago) this would not be a ‘problem’ per say. If I read Breitbart and formulated some right-wing opinions, I would apply them to the truth. In the subsequent years social media as evolved — particular Facebook — and the ‘algorithm’ turns extreme (left or right) opinions into ‘facts’.
As long as Mark Zuckerberg continues to define Facebook as a tech company, removed from the obligations of the media, the problem will not be fixed from above. So, the solution is for the user base to re-adjust the way we use the service.
Part of the problem is most people can still vividly remember the early days of Facebook.
We still perceive a version of the company that is no longer accurate. We remember 2007, when it was a place to stay in touch with family, watch our friends raise babies and applaud our mentors’ successes.
But readers, take a moment to really think about it; how many of the people you consider “close friends” actively post on the platform? For myself, that number is two — at most. It is time to throw the memory of Facebook as a baby-sharing platform in the bin.
What is interesting is I think this might be happening.
The last two days have been such an inundation of negativity that people seem to be over Facebook. It is frustrating for everyone to interact in the real world, actually enjoy your peers and colleagues, only to be confronted by hatred, animosity and condescension when taking the train home.
For the first time, people may not be blaming one another for the hatred, but rather, the platform.
Finally, it is important to say that the US is not the exception — but the most serious example of the rule. It is a global problem, and will continue to persist as long as Facebook enjoys the growth it saw in 2016, according to Stastitica it now has 1.79 billion users worldwide.
So, if ‘Boycott Facebook’ is too strong — we, as its user base, need to seriously reconsider how we approach social media and tone down just how much emphasis we place on the validity of its existence.