OPINION: Why Facebook is to blame for division in the United States

Facebook has over 2.7 billion monthly active users. (Courtesy of POLITICO)Facebook has over 2.7 billion monthly active users. (Courtesy of POLITICO)

Coley Birchfield, Correspondent.

Facebook was introduced to the world in February of 2004. I was about to celebrate my second birthday, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast was at Number 1 on the Billboard charts, and the iPhone was almost three years away. And instantly the idea from 19-year-old Harvard sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg, was a hit but also a controversy.

It didn’t take long for Zuckerberg to be named in a lawsuit regarding the origins of Facebook. Classmates of Zuckerberg claimed that he stole the idea of the website from them and even hacked their competing company’s server in a sabotage attempt. That suit, however, was never brought to an official agreement.

Fast forward to 2020 and Mark Zuckerberg is still being investigated by Federal officials regarding the operations of Facebook, their privacy policy in particular. The social media powerhouse has been under a microscope since it was revealed that a Russia hack during the 2016 election reached over 126 million users. 

Why is Facebook repeatedly involved in controversy? One simple answer, their desire for dollars, downloads and division. 

2.7 billion. That is the number of monthly users from around the world that accessed Facebook during the spike of COVID-19 and the George Floyd shooting. That is 2.7 billion people that chat with their family, share their opinions, get their news, and watch entertaining videos. How is Facebook able to keep all of these people engaged and involved in their app? It’s a controversial system known simply as the “Algorithm.”

The Social Algorithm is the reason there is a For You Page on TikTok, A Suggestions Page on YouTube and A Trending Tab on Twitter. This quiet and mostly uncontrolled system uses account data (search history, likes, followers, comments, etc.) to form a list of topics or posts that fit the user’s preference. For example, a single advertisement on Facebook can reach 5.5 percent of users at any moment. The creators of every social media platform are aware that their users must stay engaged to remain relevant. 

Let’s start with the main page. This is the heartbeat of Facebook and where most users spend their time. Here you can see your friends’ posts, what they have engaged with, several advertisements, posts from a Facebook group, and suggested friends. Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much. Instead of seeing all of your followers’ posts in chronological order, a user may see John Doe’s post from seven hours ago, and then Jane Doe’s post from two days ago, followed by ten of their friend’s you may want to follow. It seems harmless on the surface until a user finds themselves scrolling for twenty minutes while at work. Not necessarily because a conscious decision was made, but because they were sucked into the Social Algorithm.

The next page is the source of most Facebook controversy, and the reason I believe it is to blame for every American issue. The Watch page. Here is where the website uses that Algorithm to not only keep you entertained with videos, but also introduce you to the latest news and controversy. 

I opened my Facebook app on my iPhone XR on Monday and these were the titles of the videos on my Watch page in order as they appeared: “Maskless Woman Wants to Sue Gelson’s Supermarkets for Enforcing Face Mask Policy”, “These people get INSTANT KARMA!!”, “This NFL Legend’s Powerful RNC Speech Is Every Democrat’s Nightmare”, “20 Disney Moments That Flew Over Your Head As A Kid” and “How Maps Teach Racism In School”. 

I’m speechless, honestly. Facebook has used its Social Algorithm to bring controversy to every aspect of my life. School, sports, Disney Movies, and supermarkets are all things that I don’t agree with anymore. Not because of a science article on the internet or a podcast I listened to, but because of a three-minute video on a social media website. Those were not even the biggest aspects of my life such as certain political propaganda, Black Lives Matter, or my daily habits. 

What is the result of watching those videos? Word of mouth. After watching those videos I am liable to voice my opinion on Facebook to all of my friends. The result of that is an argument in the comments section, which leads to a repost with a sarcastic comment, that person’s friend voicing their opinion on the issue, and on and on. 

This is the heart of division in America. It isn’t looting in the streets, or a certain political agenda. It’s Facebook and it needs to spark hatred inside of every American. “Cancel culture” was ignited on Facebook, but it should’ve been the first to go. There would not be a mask argument, a George Floyd’s death justification, a Donald Trump presidency or a social media addiction. 

I hear all of my elders say that post-9/11 America is different from the old way of thinking. Even though that is true, I think America has been more different in a post-Facebook world.

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