Friday, November 04, 2016

Your virtual reality versus my reality

In all these years of using Facebook, I have never even bothered to look at the ads, which I treat as nuisance.  When Facebook started feeding news and "trending" items, I could not be bothered.  But, I routinely heard from students who had read something "news" because it popped up in the "trending" category.  Whenever I asked those students whether that was all the news that they read, ahem, it was.  That was when I really started worrying about Facebook--about its powers to filter the news across to the gazillion users.

It is ironic that while I marvel at the phenomenal opportunity that I have to read unfiltered news, there are many whose news only comes from their Facebook feed.  But then, it is not as if in the old days most people read newspapers either.  However, now Facebook has the attention of those for whom all the news that it is fit to print is whatever they see within that walled space.

Apparently, there has also been plenty of pro-Trump news, propaganda, in Facebook.
These sites plagiarize or aggregate stories, both real and fake, from right-wing U.S. sites, then slap provocative headlines on them and post them to Facebook. Some of the most popular stories, Silverman reports, include false claims that the pope endorsed Trump, that Gov. Mike Pence called Michelle Obama “the most vulgar first lady we’ve ever had,” and that Hillary Clinton will be indicted for her use of a private email server. These stories garnered far more engagement on Facebook than legitimate investigative stories from the likes of the New York Times.
If that got your attention, this will interest you even more--this is like a cottage industry in "the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000)" not because they want Trump to win:
Rather, they’re doing it for profit. A 16-year-old who runs a site called told him it’s averaging 1 million page views per month. He declined to share revenue figures, but in theory that could translate to tens of thousands of U.S. dollars per year—many times more than Macedonia’s median income. The 16-year-old told Silverman he experimented with pro-Bernie Sanders news during the primary, but found pro-Trump content far more popular on the social network.
Fair and balanced, Facebook style!
Facebook is overrun with viral dross that's misleading voters, fueling partisan rage, and—according to an analysis of the data on hyper-partisan news sites by BuzzFeed in October—benefiting one candidate far more than the other.
That's not the only problem with Facebook.  Remember it is all about advertisements and the money.  If news is all distorted, then you think there could be something messed up with the ads too?  If you thought so, well, you are correct:
Facebook’s system allows advertisers to exclude black, Hispanic, and other “ethnic affinities” from seeing ads.
By now, you should start freaking out.
Imagine if, during the Jim Crow era, a newspaper offered advertisers the option of placing ads only in copies that went to white readers.
That’s basically what Facebook is doing nowadays.
Facebook is running into problems with the law.
A lawsuit seeking class action status filed in California federal court on Thursday alleges that Facebook's ad targeting options violate federal fair housing and civil rights laws, which make it illegal to show a preference for certain groups of people in housing and employee recruitment advertisements.
It is a strange future that we are walking towards like zombies.  


Ramesh said...

I rest my case. Avoid Facebook like the plague !

Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they are missing. Filter coffee and The Hindu ....... :)

Sriram Khé said...

True ... but if one relied only on The Hindu then that is no different (in the structure) from only reading the news in Facebook ... which is how you and I grew up though. And that's what I noted in the post too--in the old days of the print newspaper, very few read the paper ...

Anne in Salem said...

Facebook news meets the requirements of many people today - people for whom the NYT or WAPost is too long/erudite/complex. Sad for sure. But they're probably also watching Trevor Noah so are getting both sides of the story.

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