The Tyranny of the Like

I just rejoined Facebook grudgingly. I’m starting an MA at Berkeley and was worried I would be considered a luddite if I turned up with no social media capabilities. I grudgingly admit Bookface can be useful – to communicate with small groups like a class there is no easier way on the web available currently. But that is not the purpose of Facebook; it is geared towards consumption not production.

Aziz Ansari, in a recent Freakanomics podcastcalled the internet the worst book ever. He imagined that if all the content he read on the internet was printed and bound there is no way he would read it. It would be clear that most of the shit that you consume on a screen is at best banal, and at worst damaging to society. And yet he reads it. And I read it too. But if it was printed I would throw it in the trash without hesitation. I try to control myself online; I’ve realized that I will not get any insight into the human condition however many times I go on Buzzfeed and I’ve stopped trying to convince myself that Gawker is like reading a newspaper. But it is very hard to exercise self control with Facebook because of its useful properties. You go on it to check a message and then it sucks you down the newsfeed.

I have reservations about much of the content on Facebook; it’s all so light and fluffy. Helen Lewis argues that this is due to the ‘Tyranny of the Like’, and I agree that the like button stifles debate and deeper thought. People want likes, and controversial or thought provoking posts don’t get likes – sunsets do. There is something too unequivocal about liking something on FB – liking something indicates total agreement for what has been posted. You can’t indicate interest but disagreement; there is no nuance.

There have always been plenty of media outlets that lack nuance so I’m not going to get my panties in too much of a twist over a vacuous Facebook, but the influence that ‘the echo chamber of social media’ can have on people who would otherwise be doing a better job of improving the world is concerning. Facebook contributes in its makeup to the surge in purity leftism in modern society. Meaningless activities get the likes while the hard graft of trying to understand the problems of the world whilst campaigning for meaningful change falls away.

People are aware of the problems of relying on Facebook for their information about the world. As you can see from the  below poll people are not very trusting of online specific media (be aware that the poll was done for the BBC, and look who comes out on top, so maybe don’t place too much trust in it). But I know plenty of people who would equate the trustworthiness of information from social media with that from tabloids. The worrying part is that those same people don’t read tabloids but spend hours each day consuming the ‘untrustworthy’ information coming out of social media.

This has been the rant of a privileged white kid going to an expensive school, my sincerest apologies.

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