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Automation’s role in social media

Facebook not only stores the information you provide, like your name, location, age and gender, but it also tracks your interests, the products you buy and the types of restaurants you eat at. This list does not include nearly 90 other data points that are used to create targeted ads and a relevant news feed.

In August, when Facebook fired its team of human news curators, they sought to make its trending news more automated. Not three days later, the trending news section showed a fabricated article to millions of users. Facebook later removed the article because of the inaccuracies.

If Facebook relies on algorithms for spreading news, people will likely push to game the system for their own incentives. Teens from Macedonia used clickbait headlines and fake stories surrounding the recent election to attract users to its sites. From there, they watched their ad revenue climb as thousands of users visited their sites. These teens have earned up to $3,000 in a day spreading misinformation thanks to Facebook’s amplification algorithms.

If there were any sort of fact-checking or quality control on Facebook’s end, these stories would not spread as quickly as they do. The spread of this misinformation is dangerous because of its ability to influence the views of others. While Facebook has claimed it is not a media company, millions of users receive the bulk of their information from social media.

Instead of seeing all posts in chronological order from the friends that we follow, Facebook uses an algorithm to decide the content we see based on data collected. The problem with this algorithm is its lack of transparency, leading Facebook to escape any sort of ethical scrutiny from the community it serves.

Spreading misinformation isn’t the only problem with algorithms dictating our content. These algorithms can also create echo chambers, hiding arguments which challenge our worldview. We need to see other viewpoints in order to challenge our own. Without this ability, we might become dangerously close-minded.

I urge social media platforms to seriously rethink their role in the marketplace of ideas and promote the organic spread of information. Users should also push themselves to escape echo chambers by finding diverse avenues for information.

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