alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
[personal profile] alexandra_thorn
I just installed "Better Facebook" ( as a Firefox extension. No, it doesn't keep Facebook from trying to use all of my data for advertising purposes, nor does it fix the various other privacy problems with Facebook. But my reasons for installing it are nevertheless political.

Let me explain.

* * *

Over the past decade, most of us have come to receive an increasing proportion of our information from the internet. In some ways this is really good. It means that we can actively select quality sources of information and are not railroaded into following whatever stories broadcast television and mainstream newspapers tell us are important. But there's a dangerous side-effect: with increasing compartmentalization of news sources and Balkanization of online communities, there's a strong tendency for people with differing views not only to have different opinions on the issues, but also to rely on different sources for factual information. We read blog posts by people we agree with politically, and follow news websites whose sources resonate with our moral systems.

This process is dangerous for democracy: it means that we have increasingly little cultural commonality with those outside our own self-selected echo-chambers. When we form political opinions, they are informed not only by our own values, but also by our chosen sources of information (see "My Experts are Better than Your Experts": Unfortunately, a lot of what we take as good information is actually targeted propaganda. I know of very few political action groups that are above distorting the facts to promote their own agendas. Even relatively balanced news sources tend to emphasize some news stories over others, and this emphasis reflects the political preferences of the producers and editors, and of their core audiences.

Facebook has been one of the few forums where I'm able to hear the perspectives of people with whom I share no more than a social acquaintance. This includes friends, family, coworkers, and folks who happen to be involved in the same hobbies. There's still self-selection that goes on, but it's a less precise selection than occurs on most other forums. I get to learn about the things that are most important to my general acquaintance. There's less of a tendency to hyper-focus on specific topics, and there's a mixture of humor, news, personal updates, and opinion commentary represented.

At least, that's the way that it used to be. More recently, the Facebook interface has changed to emphasize the "Top News" stories selected based on what some algorithm suggests that the user is already interested in. It's sort of troubling that it's suddenly difficult to even *find* posts by people who I haven't specifically communicated with through the site.

The political aspect to this has become evident in the past week or so, during which I (like many, but not all of my friends) have had a lot to say about the "Occupy" movement. This morning I opened up Facebook and 90% of my "Top Stories" were "Occupy"-related. Which gives the incorrect impression that the story has completely swept away all other topics of interest. It appeared that everybody was talking about it, and that everybody was expressing more or less the same sentiments on the surrounding questions.

* * *

So, how to get a more representative angle on what my friends and family are thinking about? I installed Better Facebook and turned on the chronological order function. Boom: perspective restored. Yes, some of my acquaintances are indeed talking about the "Occupy" movement, but not everybody. Not even most people. Like magic, my Facebook page instantly returns to being a place with diverse perspectives and priorities.

I feel a lot better.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-20 03:27 am (UTC)
ext_393295: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Bubbling ( is getting way more common -- many search engines do it too.


alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)

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