At this year’s Communications Network Meeting in Boston, I heard a great presentation by MoveOn.org founder Eli Pariser.
Among other sobering observations that can be found in his recent book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, Pariser points out the stultifying impact of the ever-increasing use of the word and concept of the “Like” button on social media sites to determine the value of an idea, issue or event’s worthiness of attention. “Likes” are increasingly used as a metric to gauge an organization’s popularity – for example, this recent article in The Guardian that uses “Likes” as a way of showing the reach of Britain’s top 100 non-profit organizations.
Hitting a “Like” button suggests to your followers, friends and contacts that they should pay attention. But it actually ends up shutting out important stories that none of us “Like” but still deserve notice and response. We may want our friends to pay attention to a tsunami, Rick Perry or genocide, but wouldn’t comfortably assign “Like” to these scary phenomena. Currently, social media does not offer an alternative way to call attention to negative stories in any other way.
Crowding out the negative by using the “Like” button skews Internet searches and reinforces the online media echo chamber. Spoon feeding people only information that Facebook or Google’s algorithms think you want to hear is a potential threat in our dangerous times.
How about a few other buttons on Facebook and other sites? What about “Beware” or “Heads up?”