As of late, Facebook feeds have been alight with more political contention and sports commentary than your average Thanksgiving dinner. It’s obvious that the Facebook we all signed up for when we were younger isn’t the Facebook we use now. I’m not talking about the layout or content; I’m talking about what is shared. Ages ago, we punched in our Yahoo emails and lied about our ages for a reason: we wanted to see what our friends were doing and let them know in turn. That isn’t what we are seeing today. Make an effort next time you are scrolling down to see how many posts are actually about what friends are doing. On average, one of every eight posts on my wall is an actual life update from one of my friends. The rest are in-feed ads, memes or content from the pages others and myself and others have “liked” in the past.
Today, social media sites seems to feature more rants than life updates. What are actual posts from real humans tend to be more reactions to social events, not things that have happened to folks personally. The issue here is that more people think the same thing than do the same thing. I will take too many wedding photos over an onslaught of political knee-jerk any day. What was supposed to be a community yearbook among friends has become a digital Thanksgiving-day argument (without the Tofurky). I signed up for updates on my friends’ lives, not Donald Trump’s.
Part of this problem comes from Facebook’s in-feed advertisement service. Remember back in 2014 when people were saying they would leave Facebook if they had to pay for it? For a source of income, Facebook decided to generate its funding by advertising for companies by using your friends’ likes as recommendations. This clogs up the news feed and makes it appear that friends are sharing more preferences and affiliations than they actually are. There is a difference between what your friends are sharing and what you see in your feed, which is more preferential and opinion-based rather than event-based. Users adapt to fit the sociological climate and, in a matter of years, what was once a life story-sharing platform for friends became an opinion and rant forum for involving everyone you have ever met.
Not all of the problem is completely software and sociology. The Internet is often accused of being a farm of narcissism and conceit, which isn’t limited to meticulously-filtered Instagram photos. Facebook’s present state has become a platform for users to shout their preferences to the masses, no matter how angry or annoying. Never mind that users are actually shouting their political/religious contentions at their hand-selected set of acquaintances. It has become a picketing ground; instead of petitioning a government, we end up protesting to our friends. Catharsis and voicing displeasure are necessary, but writing an angry letter to your senator or wearing a favorite team’s jersey is going to be more effective at communicating your feelings and even making a difference than a meme on Facebook ever will.
There are a few solutions to address this situation. One way is to “unfollow” pages that spout unrelated content, especially news and radio stations (get your news from other places). Refrain from sharing, reacting to or commenting on anything that isn’t original content from your friends. No matter how infuriating that political post is, commenting on it is going to give it more exposure. Also, try experimenting with different platforms that don’t allow sharing articles, such as Path, a Facebook-like app which limits users to only 500 friends. There are also other options such as Instagram or Snapchat which don’t allow users to share articles and categorize advertising away from news feeds. Social media may be unavoidable, but a pessimistic view on your friends doesn't have to be. It's your Facebook. Use it to your advantage.