They say you are what you eat.
By that same philosophy, logging onto social media is akin to putting on a pair of rose-coloured glasses. Because social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow users to only see content they are interested in, the world filtered through these sites can look very different to different people, depending on who is followed and who gets
Earlier this month, Washington Post political reporter Philip Bump started an interesting project to show the world through U.S. President Donald Trump’s eyes – at least on Twitter. He created a Twitter account called @trumps_feed that retweets every tweet sent out by the 45 accounts the president follows. That list includes mostly the accounts of his hotel properties, his family, a few colleagues such as White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and a number of conservative media accounts such as Fox News, Drudge Report and Geraldo Rivera.
A quick perusal of the account on Saturday morning revealed he was seeing a few cute baby animals, a Boston Globe story about Hurricane Harvey making landfall Friday night in Texas, a defence of Robert E. Lee, whose legacy as a hero of the Confederate Army is currently under attack, some disparaging news about Hillary Clinton and a climate change denial tweet by a Conservative humour account named @Hale_Razor stating, “Science predicted an eclipse. Technology revealed an approaching storm. But climate science didn’t predict 12 yrs without a major hurricane.”
On Aug. 15, Wired magazine’s Ashley Feinberg was able to link all of Trump’s talking points from a recent press briefing on the Charlottesville riots to Fox News’ reporting.
“Trump asserted that he did not initially denounce white supremacists by name until Monday because he didn’t have all available facts until then,” she writes. “And pondered if pulling down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee would lead to the targeting of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson next.”
Feinberg found the exact tweets in Trump’s feed, sent out in the hours leading up to the press briefing, that led to these pronouncements.
The world is privy to watching the leader of the free world base his policy decisions off the reporting of Fox News. But of course this reporting doesn’t just go to him — it goes to 2.24 million Americans — the most viewers of any single cable news source in America right now. About the same amount of people follow Fox’s popular cable news show Fox & Friends on Facebook. In comparison, 5.7 million follow America’s public broadcaster, National Public Radio (NPR), on Facebook. NPR tends to slant liberal in comparison to Fox.
A look at what was at the top of either account on Saturday morning is telling:
On Fox & Friends, the top post is former NFL star Jim Brown criticizing quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem last season in protest of police violence against black people.
Screenshot courtesy of National Public Radio
“I’m an American,” states Brown in the post. “I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem.”
The top post Saturday morning on NPR was a news story headlined “France’s gender equality minister wants on-the-spot fines for sexual harassers.”
The second from top post on Fox & Friends is a video interview with a pundit discussing an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) apology for tweeting a picture of a white baby with an American flag. Apparently, there had been a back-and-forth on Twitter wherein ACLU posted the picture, which was captioned, “This is the future that ACLU members want.”
When Twitter users pointed out this picture could imply ACLU longs for a specifically white future, in a country where white supremacy is a growing ideology, ACLU tweeted these users had made a good point. This exchange became news on Fox & Friends.
Over at NPR, the second from top story is headlined, “Neighbourhoods worry about living amid oil and gas development.”
It’s clear to see an individual’s view of the world is going to be strongly coloured by which news outlets he or she follows on Facebook. When election time comes, this fact becomes key, as people have the opportunity to make decisions that will affect their neighbours and the rest of their country based on the knowledge available to them.
This is why it’s important for everybody to be critical of their newsfeeds. Questions to ask are: Why am I seeing what I’m seeing? What am I not seeing? It’s also important to read all news with a critical eye, whether it’s NPR or Fox & Friends. It might even be healthy to consider branching out to a greater variety of media outlets.
For example, I follow Breitbart on Facebook.. Not because I am a fan but because I want to see what its 3.3 million followers are seeing. When I expose myself to Breitbart, I’m exposing myself to different viewpoints. I don’t expect I will ever become sympathetic to these viewpoints but it’s important for me to at least understand them because I think it’s better to challenge my viewpoint over cloistering myself within what I want to see.