Artwork by Steven Rome
Everyone knows their Facebook “friends” are biased. There will always be a friend who shares an unprecedented amount of anti-Obama photos, and one who doesn’t go a day without posting a status regarding Trump’s bigotry. The posts are partisan but are expected, as you are aware that the posts only represent the views of your respective friends. Despite the slant of our friends, there still remains an expectation that the platform on which we share our biases is neutral. While Facebook serves as a setting where all views can be expressed, it has also presented itself as an objective indicator of news and collective interest, publishing “trending” statistics and announcing special events. In light of recent allegations, however, this objectivity has been called into question.
A discussion of Facebook bias began earlier this month, when former Facebook employees asserted that the “trending topics” column along the side of the newsfeed was not the measured indicator it presented itself to be. These former employees accused the $350 billion corporation of fostering a small team of editors that pick and chose these topics with liberal bias. Facebook says it has taken the allegations seriously and that it views itself as a “neutral platform.”
The crux of the controversy is the small, somewhat trivial box with names of people, places and events that are supposedly the most frequently mentioned on the site. But it is not the actual box that is causing such a stir, but rather the idea that Facebook—perhaps the world’s most far-reaching source of information—and news in general, which, ideally, should be operated with as little bias as possible, could be so contaminated with the impurity of purposeful dogmatism.
Truth be told, Facebook owes nothing to the people to present itself as neutral. Facebook is a private company and is not legally obligated to be an objective medium. But as one of the most influential corporations in the world today, Facebook has an ethical responsibility to provide people the truth. If computers and algorithms are truly behind the “trending topics column,” that’s great. But if real people—real people with opinions and biases of their own—are the ones behind the “trending topics column,” at least make it clear to the world. If Facebook wants to be biased, it at least owes it to its users to differentiate opinion from fact. And if this is the case, so be it. The side column serves such a minor role for this site. Simply put: Facebook just needs to pick a side and run with it. It needs to be frank with the over one billion active Facebook users; if its subjective news, display it as so.
And to be clear, it is not as if this list of topics is the sole way in which people get their news, but it has brought up an interesting discussion on whether getting news from one place, getting news from one side, is harmful.
In the modern era– where the number of TV channels is well into the thousands, the internet serves as a blank canvas for any and all writers, and people are starting to read articles via snapchat — finding news is frankly too easy. With so many mediums to pick from, one can simply choose to read or watch onesided news, from the same side, again and again and again. Hearing the same slight liberal spin, or reading news over and over with a conservative tint has become easier than ever in this day and age. Frankly, it’s harmful. While general news is not entirely biased, the way articles are framed often is. It is important that as citizens we take in both sides. Reaffirming our own beliefs feels great, but how are we supposed to consider the opinions of the other side if we don’t take the time to learn more about it? And in a time where the American government is more polarized than ever, don’t citizens hope for a future more united?
But the news we pick up at the Newsstand (or more likely, the news we read on our iPhones) isn’t the way we learn more about conservative and liberal culture. The interactions we have in school is a large part of the way we form our views. The question is: in the fairly liberal community we find ourselves in, are we beaten and beaten again with simply liberal bias?
At Mamaroneck High School no teachers instruct a “liberal curriculum” or a “conservative class.” However, the way information is presented may seem to lean somewhat towards one side. Teachers choose what materials they give to a class, they choose what subjects they discuss, and choose the way these subjects are talked about. And generally, what is chosen, has a liberal tint. It is not to say many students are complaining that their teacher makes a “Trump joke” in class or protest when the articles they are given are written by liberal writers. We like reaffirmation. We like jokes that align with our beliefs. We like articles written by people who share our views. But in our increasingly polarized society, shouldn’t we take steps toward seeing a bit of the other side? Our students should be getting a bit more of a balance. We want our students to be more informed of the world around them and the views that are shared in the world around them. So if our students read an article written by a left leaning writer, it’s only fair to balance it out by including a right leaning article too.