Facebook as Selective News Feeds

Yes, really.

On Facebook, you’re allowed to set your home page so that you see more ‘news’ about certain friends’ activities, and less of another’s. You can choose to see more information about photos your friends post, and less about their links or recent activities.

In essence, you can cherry-pick the sides of your friends you would most like to see, and those you’d rather not know about. You may choose whom to care more about and whom to ‘cast aside’.

My question is, should we really be encouraged to be this selective about our friends?

We will naturally feel closer bonds to certain friends and not care that much about others. We naturally cherry-pick our ‘bosom buddies’ and keep others as acquaintances. I’m just not so sure Facebook should encourage this selectivity.

We shouldn’t be given more tools with which to filter our friends and acquaintances out; we shouldn’t be given the option to hear nothing about Friend A’s ‘news’ and absolutely everything about Friends B, C and D.

Let’s put it in the context of the ‘big picture’.

When we read or hear the news, we’re not allowed to filter that. We can’t say, “Today I’d like to hear about US current affairs and nothing about South Asia.” We can tune in when there’s a business show like ‘Quest Means Business’ or ‘World Business Report’, and obviously, in and out of Sports Hour. But we’re given all the current affairs in one go, and rightly so.

We shouldn’t be encouraged to be so picky and selective about everything. Imagine the state of public awareness if broadcasters and print media copied Facebook’s example. Imagine if they gave us the option as viewers to programme our news hours to only report what goes on in certain corners of the world; or only about certain topics such as entertainment or sports; or news only about certain individuals or organisations.

Specialist papers and magazines exist to serve certain niches – I can read ‘People’ to learn more about what Brad and Angelina are upto; The Economist to understand the details behind a certain business deal and its wider financial implications; and so on.

But in the general news, imagine if we could filter it this way.

The more Facebook spreads, the more users it has signing up; and the more of us who decide to filter our contacts, the more we’re perpetuating this behaviour. We’re encouraging each other to be picky about the wrong kind of thing.

Which is not to say that the concept of choice should be made obsolete. We should be encouraged to be selective about the food we eat; the places we go to on holiday; the candidates we elect to office; the goods we buy from corporations; personal matters affecting our daily lives.

When we already prioritise certain friends over others; care more about certain news stories more than others etc, these processes shouldn’t be given extra encouragement. We should be given the same amount of information about all our friends’ activities, just as we are given the same amount of information about current events.

Otherwise we risk creating a society that is so self-absorbed and so intent on micro-managing every facet of our lives that we no longer look at things in their entirety. By picking out the bits of our friends we don’t want; or, in the case of the news, choosing to only read about certain topics, we will no longer see anything as a whole. Events will be seen just as what they mean to us.

This could lead to a whole generation of people thinking that they can just choose to ignore certain aspects of human behaviour and activity; business practices and just about anything else we are given the option of filtering down.

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