Facebook in the Political World

The internet has come a long way since I was born in 1996. It was at first a tool used for knowledge and promotion, but it has become so much more than that. In 2007, at 11 years old, I opened a Facebook account- it was my first social networking site. The way Facebook worked then was Twitter-esque, whenever you had a spare moment you would answer the question, “What are you doing right now?” Usually you were doing nothing of importance, but when constantly prompted, you’d either write a lengthly anecdote about your day or ask a rhetorical question. You were constantly adding new friends as more and more people joined the site each day.

Today, Facebook has become a minefield of political articles and personal posts about political opinions, far different from its intended use back when it was just a message board for Harvard students in the mid-2000’s.  It is almost impossible to enter the sight without seeing a post about Donald Trump’s newest executive order or the latest on international terrorism; the site is almost taken over by news articles.  “Fake news,” a term everywhere these days, referring specifically to how Facebook’s lack of vetting their news sources may have led to the election of Donald Trump in America, became a huge international topic in November of 2016, and continues to be today.  Thanks to the algorithm used by Facebook, people who leaned in a particular political direction saw posts that most fit their beliefs, while articles that challenged their beliefs were most of the time not presented.  This led conservatives (and democrats) to read extremely right-wing (or left-wing) articles usually filled with misinformation, trying to grab readers attention and get them to vote in a particular direction.

Donald Trump made use of this new tool, a Facebook centered on politics, as well as Twitter, to his advantage.  His constant stream of tweets late into the night entertained the public and got his name out into the media more than it would have without a social media presence.  And Mr. Trump continues to tweet reckless and hasty messages even as he holds the presidency in the United States.  Additionally, Facebook launched Donald Trump onto a platform that allowed it’s almost 2 billion users to read about him day after day, normalizing his outrageous comments to the press and making desensitizing the public to how crazy his statements actually were.

Social media platforms are powerful tools, and when used for good can help positive messages spread like wildfire, a la the ALS ice bucket challenge.  But when false news spreads in the same way, dangerous things may happen, like the presidency of a man like we have never seen in the United States of America.