Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Facing the world through Facebook

I spend lots of time on Facebook these days. Too much, in fact. And it's not because I'm sharing the latest grandkid story or seeing friends' vacation photos, although those things do happen.

No, the extra time is because Facebook has become a source of information on endless topics, served up based on what you've already shown to be your interests. Some is from shaky sources (it's the internet, after all) but some is from news-gathering and news-reporting organizations with pretty solid fact-checking credentials.

So if a friend shares a link to a video in which scientists are literally watching part of an iceberg collapse into the ocean, and if I click "like" after reading it, Facebook will see that my newsfeed includes more stories about global climate change. Several friends share the latest quotes from Bernie Sanders, who has regularly opposed the way billionaire businessmen and corporations have bought influence with Congress at the expense of the middle class. Now when one of those quotes comes my way, Facebook also aggregates a handful of related stories, whether it's about regulating Wall Street or protecting health care or shifting our national priorities away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner, renewable energy. And because I'm interested in all those things (and more), I read them, perhaps "like" them, and voila! I receive more of them.

This is not the only way my newsfeed fills up. One friend loves animals and every day sends a dozen items about endangered species living in protected habitats. She also sends a dozen cartoons. Some are genuinely funny, but to find out which ones, I'd have to read them all. Other friends send inspirational messages, stunning photos of exotic places, or political commentary from the left or the right. These are not their own writing or photos, they are simply passing along things they like. And I compound the traffic flow, because periodically I "like" a message that resonates, or a political cartoon that nails an event or situation in what strikes me as a very clever and insightful way. When I "like" something, my Facebook friends get the same message, and a line saying that I liked this. 

I can put an end to some of this traffic. I can tell Facebook that I no longer wish to see Minion cartoons, for example, or posts from other specific sources. I can even say I don't want to see posts from certain friends, and they'll never know. (In fact, I can continue to see a little preview of everything they have posted, just in case I want to check in sometimes.) So I'm about to regulate some of the volume.

But there's another aspect to all of this. I'm getting more and more information that documents ways in which we are losing natural resources that we need to survive as a species. Ways that our democracy is not living up to its promises. Ways that products we use every day--including food--are introducing poisons into our systems. Ways that progressives and conservatives misunderstand each other at the expense of social interaction and our governance. You get the idea.

We all have perspectives on these issues. A few of my blog friends write about them often, but most of us have chosen to focus on other things--daily life, families, books, aging, sometimes even religion. Anything but "politics." But I've been drawn to those social and political issues on Facebook.

Mostly, I read about them. My Facebook friends and I occasionally write a paragraph as an into to a link we are passing along, but we're not really having discussions there. It isn't a medium that encourages an individual user to write a thoughtful piece...blogging is better for that.

So I'm trying to decide whether to write a few pieces about my most pressing issues, and if so whether to post them here or open a new blog with a new name...because when I look at these issues I'm not exactly blissed out.


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