If 2016 was the year of fear, regression, nationalism, and racism, its cause and result was the advent of an infocalypse of sorts. This was the year the news truly morphed into whatever you wanted to believe in. Too many things that were presented to people on Facebook as news were nothing more than Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, both feeding into and feeding off of ignorance. If Facebook’s goal was to become THE source of choice for confirmation bias pandering for billions of people, they can consider their mission accomplished.
I don’t know how much Facebook affected the election, truthfully. But the fact that Trump’s entire campaign is post-factual and that Facebook is post-factual can’t have hurt Trump’s chances any with conservative-leaning people on Facebook. I know people who were whipped up into anti-Benghazi fever and anti-Clinton-email-server frenzy thanks to Facebook. I’m not pretending that Clinton doesn’t have some serious issues or that a Clinton administration wouldn’t be more government as usual, but if Facebook didn’t help create the “Lock Her Up” segment of society and convince people that a racist, sexist, lying, and almost certainly fascist, con artist was a better choice, I’ll eat my 2020 ballot. Facebook is where people also somehow convinced themselves in huge numbers that Trump is the Christian voter’s candidate of choice, which shows just how capable we are of convincing ourselves of anything if we say it often enough and if enough of our friends join in.
Getting an angry mob together and expecting a nuanced, reasoned reaction to come from it is a pretty silly thing to do. Gamergate, Reddit, and 4chan are all ongoing testament to this. And so is Facebook, regardless of how much Mark Zuckerberg wants to deny the effect of fake news and algorithmically skewed article types in people’s feeds.
The fact that we have more information than ever and can trust it less than ever isn’t just a conservative phenomenon. The entire liberal world was still denying what was happening in front of their own eyes on election night up until the very bitter end because they believed in their wildly inaccurate polls and their projections. A lot of pundits looked really silly, and that’s putting it charitably.
I honestly believe Facebook is probably the worst thing to happen to the internet (and possibly to modern America). Come to think of it, the entire premise of the internet as a tool of freedom and democratization for the underrepresented hasn’t panned out very well: it’s given the government unlimited capacity for spying on us and controlling us, and it’s done an equally outstanding job of lobotomizing the people it was expected to educate and empower. It’s not just that anti-intellectualism is available to those who want it; Americans are clambering over one another to get a full dose, and Facebook is their preferred method of direct delivery.
Zuckerberg, et. al. don’t really know how much fake news is on Facebook, regardless of their wild attempts at quantification. It’s clear that 99% is a number that was made up on the spot, which is fitting when discussing the topic of lies posing as factual information. Regardless, Facebook has to seriously examine their role in Election 2016 and the pending installation of some pretty unsavory characters into the White House. It would have to take its influence seriously regardless of outcome or even the candidates involved.
I agree with calls for Facebook to do a better job of making sure that articles presented as news on its site are real and not hoaxes, but it’s not really enough. We all need to do some hard thinking about the role of all social media in general and the internet in our lives. Far from making us a better, more cohesive society, it’s beginning to look like it has dumped us straight into Idiocracy.