The Accidental News Source

Is Facebook Partially to Blame for President Trump?

by Tyler Hicks

@QuickThicks

This is weird. President-elect (has that word always sounded this weird?) Donald Trump will assume his role as Commander-in-Chief in a little over two months, and we’ll plunge into a period of pervasive and inescapable darkness for the next four years. Okay, so that’s a little overdramatic, but only a little. Still, as we continue to come to terms with this election, one question will continue to linger for quite some time: How did this happen?

Many people are eager to lay the blame at the feet of Facebook. In fairness, the most popular social network has been known to suppress conservative news stories from their “Trending” section, but is Facebook really to blame for the rise of Donald Trump? Not by a long shot.

First, the conservative news suppression story must be disregarded for the sake of this discussion, because while that story does show a partisan bias that skews left, it ultimately has nothing to do with why people are arguing over Facebook’s guilt.

The argument is that the network’s lack of safeguards makes it too easy for unreliable or blatantly false content to spread like wildfire, thereby influencing how people feel about an issue or a candidate and reinforcing misinformation.

On the surface, this sounds like a good point. Most of us have probably witnessed one such false story popping up on their news feed because a relative or old high school classmate shared it, and even more common is the widely believed Onion or ClickHole story about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump doing something crazy.

But a safeguard that somehow blocks certain stories from going viral would be counterintuitive to the mission of Facebook. Rather, the social network was built to connect friends, not connect people to news.

Yes, it has since become a hub for news seekers, and “Facebook and Twitter” were undoubtedly the top responses on the News Engagement Day surveys that some of us probably took this semester.

Still, instead of pointing the finger at a website for handcuffing us when it comes to the news we encounter and read, let’s take a look in the mirror. It is our job to seek out reliable news sources, not Mark Zuckerberg’s, and it is our responsibility as students, journalists, and voters to find the information that will make us better and more informed for all aspects of life.

We need to be our own safeguards against bogus news — it’s easy, fun, and, little by little can make us a more informed electorate.

Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism