Mat Honan, a writer for Wired magazine, did an experiment to find out what would happen to his Facebook feed if he ‘liked’ everything. He states:
I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me.
You can read the article here, and please do as it is absolutely fascinating, but to summarize: everything went 1984 wonky. The algorithm that interprets what you should see on your feed–as determined by your viewing preferences–couldn’t handle the over load, and within 48 hours:
…content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post.
During his experiment, two other key aspects of internet writing came to the surface. One, the amount of rubbish that is filling our day. Honan stated:
My feed was showing almost only the worst kind of tripe that all of us in the media are complicit in churning out yet should also be deeply ashamed of. Sensational garbage.
He wasn’t arguing that the Huffington Post or Upworthy are tripe, but the ‘What sort of classic elf are you?’ Buzzfeed pieces were everywhere, as well as the right-wing anger articles. So, what are we losing when these feeds overpower other articles? I’m not saying ‘fluff’ pieces that magically tell us which ice-cream we would be do not have their place. Sometimes we need a break from the ‘news’, and to be honest my blog can be considered ‘fluff’. But, if we ‘like’ one of these pieces, or take one of these quizzes, and more come to the top of our screen, what interesting and informative artcles are we not seeing?
The next aspect of the experiment that came to light was how articles are now being written. I addressed this with This Post Will Change Your Life, and Honan noticed it as well:
I get to learn its very particular syntax. Usually it went something like this:
A sentence recounting some controversial news. Good!
A sentence explaining why this is good.
A call to action, often ending with a question?
Once I see this pattern, I start noticing it everywhere.
(Image to the right from Wired magazine.)
We aren’t given facts, but asked to make a ‘stand’ with an issue about which we have been given no detailed information.
Personally, I don’t even open anything in my feed if I don’t recognise the news source. However, this sort of quick hook is now being used by my those individuals on Facebook who are not journalists. What is worrying is that this sort of language has become so common, that the average person has begun to imitate it. So, while the link may be to a reputable new source, the average Joe Schmoe sharing the link is unwittingly succumbing to outlandish tactics. Which makes me wonder if Joe Schmoe read the full article to begin with.
Additionally, not everyone understands what a reputable new source is. The agency Britain First has been gaining momentum by posting images of WWII soldiers with such copy as ‘Like if you support the Greatest Generation’. So, people ‘like’ it, giving Britain First more ‘likes’ which they can then use to argue their mission is supported. What many do not realise is that Britain First is a right-wing fascist organisation. Read more about them and their deceitful ways of gaining support in this article: 12 Things You Should Know About Britain First.
The same can be said for the conglomerate The Daily Mail. While most Brits know that The Mail is sensationalism at its worst, it is a large global newspaper and many of my American friends share their articles not aware that the Daily Mail is evil. (This is not hyperbole, The Mail is the newspaper of Satan.)
What I am trying to say is as writers you have a responsibility to not only understand what you write, but also understand what you read and what you share with the world. Whether it’s understanding the layered political undertones of Animal Farm or where your ‘news’ is coming from, always stop to think before ‘liking’ something.
Honan said it best in his article:
It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other. We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves—the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground.
With that said, feel free to ‘like’ this post. There’s a ‘like’ button to the right.