Errors, Snap Judgements, and Manufactured Outrage
Last week, on August 26th, Facebook announced they were automating their Trending feature and phasing out the people who previously wrote the descriptions for the trending news items.
Then, earlier this week, things started getting screwy:
First, there were the hilarious mix-ups. Yesterday a video of a dog reacting to seeing its owner for the first time in two years went viral. The top headline, from something called iHeartViral.com, told people they just had to watch it. And yet the Trending Topics module put the video under the headline Watch Dogs 2 — an upcoming video game about hacking and cybersecurity.
Yesterday, a more serious error occurred: a fake news story about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly’s supposed secret affinity for Hillary Clinton blew up on Facebook, landing it on top of the Trending list. Not only did the engineers (or algorithms) responsible for Trending fail to realize the story was false — it came from a partisan libertarian source called End the Fed — but Facebook also left it in the Trending module for hours to collect likes and comments. All the while, the company unwittingly gave enormous exposure to a damaging piece of false information.
Oops. Looks like those algorithms need some fine-tuning, right? That’s not how The Verge framed the problem in their headline the above quote is from. Their headline is, “Facebook’s editorial purge has completely backfired”.
Wow. Ok. That’s another way of looking at things, but I think this is part of a bigger problem in our modern world: immediate reactions without contemplation. Online services like Twitter and Facebook have helped expedite and amplify snap decisions. Many people would rather be first and wrong in 140 characters than last and well-read in 800 words.
I think the Facebook Trending bump — and that is all is truly is, a tiny, fucking bump — is something we’re all going to forget about in 4 days when the next thing to get outraged over happens.
This brings me to the other problem in our modern world: manufactured outrage. The term has been around at least since 2012, but I first started hearing it used regularly this year on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Right now the big one is Colin Kapernick sitting down during the National Anthem. The correct response to this bullshit is “who gives a fuck?” But news sites and idiots in my Facebook feed are fueling the fire and making this trivial event into a story. It’s not.
You can’t have an informed opinion about something if you don’t have information about that something (see that word “informed” that comes before “opinion”?).
We have an ever-increasing number of world events thrown in our faces every second of every day of every year, but our time is still finite, so we need to be very careful what we choose to focus our attention, time, and energy on.
Has Facebook’s replacement of people with algorithms “completely backfired”? I have no fucking idea, and neither does anyone else. It’s hasn’t even been a week.
Give it some time. I swear everything will be ok.