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Is Facebook a Political Echo Chamber?

by: DocJess

Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 08:47:27 AM EST


In yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Steve Welsh wrote an op-ed on Pennsylvania politics and Facebook. You can see the whole article here. The author lost the Pennsylvania Republican Senatorial primary earlier this year to Tom Smith, who went down to defeat in the general to incumbent Bob Casey.

The thrust of his op-ed is that because of the process Facebook uses to dictate what shows on one's feed, if a lot of your friends are political, Facebook will keep information from similar friends higher on your feed and those with differing politics lower on your feed. He claims that most of the reason a lot of Republicans thought they would win Pennsylvania is BECAUSE they were sucked into a political echo chamber by Facebook, and therefore were shocked and surprised that most voters didn't feel that way once the results were tallied. 

Here's the part that really caught my attention. After explaining the whole Facebook process relative to Republicans, and how opinion and fact are given the same weight, he writes:

I am sure the same thing is happening to Democrats. Of course, since my Facebook profile indicates I am a Republican and I tend to click on conservative links, I will never see what Democrats are writing about.

The result is that Facebook is pushing the Republican Party into no man's land and convincing single-issue extremists in the party that it is a good idea in the process. The loud minority on Facebook drown out, and even worse, attack dissenting views.

Huh.

I'm on Facebook, and I have a lot of liberal friends. Also people who are on the completely opposite side. Plus, I virtually never click on those right-side bar links, and ignore advertising. I see information from both sides, in both posts and comments. Not to mention that a lot of my Facebook connections post right-side idiocy, so I can certainly be aware of what the wacko right is writing. I suspect that I have more willingness to hear multiple sides than Steve does.

Further, I consider it absurd that Facebook is "pushing the Republican Party into no man's land". That party is doing it to itself. If there are moderate Republicans, as Steve claimed to be in his campaign, where are THEIR writings? Why are they not posting to their friends' walls? Where is their voice?

Finally, I find it AMAZING that people would consider Facebook an arbiter of political information. Maybe it's just me, but I share articles of interest with my friends, I am often glad when people ferret out information that I can fact-check and then disseminate via DCW, Facebook, Twitter or some other avenue. But to use Facebook to get some sort of sense of something, like how an election is going to turn out? I'm appalled. There is so much misinformation in so many places, even the MSM, that before something is "true" to me, I check the source. Why anyone would choose to do otherwise and just say "this is what my friends say, so it must be gospel" is completely beyond me. 

Steve believes that the answer is getting out and talking to people. Gee. Perhaps if he would have thought of that when he was running for office, he could have lost to Bob Casey instead of Tom Smith. "Getting out and talking to people" is what we Democrats DO. It's our phone trees and lit drops and canvassing and registering voters even when there isn't an election....go figure. 

I'm not giving up my Facebook account - I like Words with Friends too much. But as for a source for data? Gee. For those of you who have been reading my work for years, you know that to me, real facts are where it's at. Opinion is fun, and I'm a fan of that, too. But I never confuse the two. I'm often appalled at the people who do. 

DocJess :: Is Facebook a Political Echo Chamber?

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