Social Media has become a big part of our everyday lives, none more than Facebook. Facebook keeps us connected with all of our friends, family, and relatives. We can see a friend’s birthday pictures, chat with relatives in another country, post thought-provoking questions, network with colleagues, or stay in touch with old friends. Facebook, as well as other social media platforms, has many positive attributes which any user can tell you. All of these unbelievable tools to connect with other people don’t cost anything, Facebook is free to join, but in reality nothing comes for free. It’s said that if you use a product and don’t pay for it, then you are the product. If that’s true then how are we being sold, whom are we being sold to, and why is this important to you?
Facebook: A shift in values
Over the years Facebook has changed dramatically. From “The Facebook” back in 2003, to the social media behemoth it has become today, their goals and policies have shifted along with much of the industry. In the beginning Mark Zuckerberg created it as a MySpace alternative for college students, you had to have a university student email address to sign up or you couldn’t create an account. As their platform grew, it expanded to the public and saw an explosion in membership. Today Facebook has more users than Christianity has followers. It competes with the Big 5 media companies, and is more influential on people.
The shear data that it amasses in a single day from its user base is staggering, Every widget, every group suggestion, every interaction, every… single… thing… on Facebook is created to keep you on the page. The longer you stay on the page the more data they gather, the more precise they can display their content, and the more revenue they can generate. Facebook isn’t just in the business of social media anymore, they’re in the business of Big Data.
Facebook is basically a giant journal that users write in every day. We write about our thoughts, our experiences, share photos, click to like posts, and express our feelings through emojis. Facebook keeps all of this information stored, from your very first profile picture to the last post you liked. The amount of information they have about you is staggering. Highly specialized computers pour through data drawn from billions of accounts each day and find patterns. These patterns can then be used to make predictions, and these predictions are so accurate it’s shocking. For instance, Facebook knows when you and your spouse are going to break up before you do!
It obviously wasn’t built for this kind of purpose, it’s a bi-product of what it was built for in the first place. That doesn’t make it any less scary, the truth is Facebook can predict the future about something when it finds a pattern with incredible accuracy.
Facebook uses this data to aid companies in targeting niche audiences to show their content to. Facebook knows so much about you, it knows exactly what content you are going to be susceptible to and will barrage you with it. I’m not just talking about ads either, when a blog comes out with an article it wants to promote on Facebook it is displayed in the news feed of specific individuals that Facebook knows will be the most susceptible to its influence. There is a whole division of Facebook dedicated to help businesses influence you. It’s called Facebook for business influencers. Your news feed is full of content Facebook either thinks you will enjoy reading, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but mixed in with everything else is all the influential content. After a while all you will see is more and more content that is tailored towards you and less content that represents opposing viewpoints.
When all you are given is one opinion about a subject and are not given any alternative opinion you are robbed of the ability to weigh those opinions against each other and form your own decision. Basically it denies you the opportunity to think and decide for yourself.
What you can do to minimize the impact of Influencers.
There isn’t much you can do to change the way social media companies operate and since it’s such a large part of all of our lives there really isn’t any way to avoid running into this problem. In this case knowing isn’t half the battle, it is the battle. Here are a few ways to contend with social media influencers is to:
- Limit the amount of time you spend on social media.
- Take everything you read with a grain of salt.
- Seek out counter opinions to gain more information on the subject before you form your own opinion.