Since Donald Trump coined the phrase “fake news,” it’s been pretty hard to accurately decipher the difference between a story we don’t agree with and a story that is actually fake.
Real fake news has been impacting the validity of our democracy since about 2016. People not wanting to hear opinions different from their own, well that’s been around forever.
Facebook’s fake news spreads quickly because it’s catered to reinforce our already existing beliefs; something we all (conservative, liberal and independent alike) are guilty of coveting.
What makes the addition of fake news to our information environments exceptionally dangerous, though, is not only the reach of social media (specifically Facebook), but the devotion of marketers to binary oppositions.
If you have a social media account (Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram), you see controversial opinions often. Whether it’s demand for Publix to revoke their endorsements of a governor candidate supporting the NRA; outrage following the media’s coverage of the alleged cult Twelve Tribes; or, most recently, Colin Kaepernick and the ever-enticing “Nike scandal,” Facebook’s spread of binary oppositions is a considerable contribution to our nation’s ego-driven divide.
Be it guns or freedom, activism or patriotism, and wrong or right, Facebook’s fake news accounts have done a good job of presenting only two stances in political conversations.
I’ll admit it’s sometimes nice to have opinions shaped for you; we don’t always know how we feel, and, if there’s one thing the success of fake news has proven, it’s that we like to be told what to think about politics. But, at what expense?
Binary oppositions make it so we can only argue from one side or the other. These limited alternatives to beliefs generate a more skewed and prideful separation between us and our coworkers, family, and Facebook friends.
Facebook is supposedly doing what they can to go back to “what made Facebook good in the first place.” Its most recent ads acknowledge its spam, clickbait, data misuse and fake news. The company says it’ll get back to “putting the focus on your friends,” presumably instead of political propaganda.
Look, I’m with you. I, too, am sick of putting our country’s fate in Facebook’s hands; it’s too much of a responsibility for a social media site, and simultaneously takes too much responsibility away from educated, active members of our democracy. But, I do think Facebook should at least want to distribute a higher quality of journalism: something offering us the necessary reminder that supporting one thing, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to protest the other.
Unfortunately, Facebook’s impact doesn’t stop with the spread of binary oppositions. With an either-or mentality flooding our newsfeeds, we are influenced to feel and react to one perspective strongly. And, it seems, in search of a clear and obvious stance of intolerance, we’ve began to turn to the old-fashioned consumer boycott.
Although I respect my baby-boomer Aunt Barbara’s notion of, “Hit em where it hurts!,” I also stand by my millennial ways of really valuing individual interaction.
Opting out of interacting with brands (or anyone else) you disagree with, immediately removes you from the information environment of those whose opinions you are trying to change. Notably, though, it prevents your perspective from changing, as well.
After my aunt stopped going to Publix, I stopped going to Yellow Deli, and the internet stopped buying (and started burning) Nikes, I realized nothing really had changed. Yes, Publix did put a hold on Adam Putnam’s support, but that was only after 18-year-old David Hoggan organized an active sit-in. Nike sales are statistically up, and the Twelve Tribes and Yellow Deli are still thriving. So, in reality, what were these consumer boycotts really doing?
The truth is, yes, I did want a veggie burger from Yellow Deli, but I also wanted to small-talk with employees, experience first-person customer service and possibly get invited back to Friday dinners at their house; all of which would have come to a halt if I participated in a consumer boycott.
Consumer boycotts are statistically failures and certainly ostracizing; if we want to change the world, we can’t remove ourselves from any part of it.
We should be more wary about what we read, who wrote it, and why it was written. Let’s know that fake news isn’t just something to put air quotes around: It’s fake news stories, written by fake journalists, who only care about clickbait, because that’s where the ad sales money is. These stories are created with the intention of limiting our perspectives and fueling our hate. Whether you support Donald Trump or not, we must realize people (usually from other countries) are profiting off our nation’s political binary divide.
When it comes to activism, I think we need to consider our options. If change and understanding is truly what we seek, how can we accomplish that with omittance? Boycotting brands based on political stances further separates our nation, and segregation (of any sort) is always a step backwards.
This means whether you’re unblocking your conservative friend on Facebook, having a difficult debate with a coworker, or reading a news story that makes your head shake from left to right, sometimes, for the sake of expanding our information environments, we have to suck it up and push ourselves to be part of communities that don’t represent our core values. If Facebook isn’t going to accurately deliver us an array of perspectives, then as true patriots to our nation and democracy, we must actively seek them. Because in a world that has so many mediums for communication, a consumer boycott seems rather lazy.
Sierra Sangetti-Daniels is an Oneonta High School graduate who is studying at the State University College at Oneonta.