The division in the US and many Western countries is palpable. Families are divided. Communities are divided. And it all seemed to happen so fast. But how? When we search for something on Google the “cookies” our previous searches have left behind, help Google deliver the first page results that Google thinks, based on those previous searches, we’re looking for. In other words, the information that is “served” to us is not necessarily true or accurate. We’re not served the right answer but the answer that Google thinks we want. Think about that. It’s possible that Google is feeding you inaccurate or even false information. Google owns YouTube and the same rules apply when you’re searching through all those videos.
Facebook has a similar algorithm except the process is accelerated because of the community of “Friends” all participating in the conversation and the ability to make content go viral so quickly. Content goes viral when shared often in a short amount of time. For example, if you have more “Friends” that like Trump than Clinton, the algorithm may determine you’d like to be “served” more information specific to your connections’ interests, more Trump favorable content. If you are served a video that says “Hilary is a crook” and you agree you will be served more similar content. If you click on the video to watch it then you will be served similar content faster. Eventually unless you change your filters, the more and more content reinforcing that “Hillary is a Crook” will be served to your Facebook page. And not because it’s true but rather because:
- You viewed similar content
- This content is most viewed and shared by your connections
- This content matches your interests
If Rachel Maddow “breaks” what she thinks is big news about Trump’s tax returns and many people that are connected to you on Facebook feel that she blew it put of proportion then through engagement, Shares, Likes, Comments, etc. that thread goes viral. The unintended consequence is that this series events are affecting public opinion.
Google and Facebook may have grand ideas about “serving” the truth but at this point they can’t do that. They can only serve the most popular answers that match your query. You already know this to be true but you may not have noticed it yet. If you are into cycling you’ve been served cycling ads. If you like cute cat and dog videos, road rage videos, really whatever your interests are then you’re already being served more content that matches those interests. The same is true with politics and personal beliefs.
There are privacy settings and ways you can block or hide posts or certain types of content. Most people don’t take the time to adjust them. And many people may just like to jump into the fray. Facebook feeds off bodies. They don’t care, they just want the “bodies in the room.” So next time you log in to Facebook or search for a video on YouTube understand each company has an agenda and always consider the source. And as they used to say about TV, “just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t make it true.”
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