How Facebook Suppresses Opposing Views and Reinforces Enclaves

By , July 6, 2011

Facebook and other online communities are unintentionally suppressing opposing views and isolating us into “enclave discussions” instead of public exchanges. Here’s how.

Today, when I tried to submit a comment to a Facebook post, a pop-up window informed me that I have been temporarily “blocked” from posting comments, due to “abuse.”

The nature of the “abuse” wasn’t specified, so I had to think back: what have I done lately, and specifically what have I done differently recently?

My conclusion: over the past few days (especially during the three-day July 4th weekend), I’ve been more active in posting comments expressing an “opposing view” regarding a “political” topic (education reform and high-stakes testing).  I’ve tried to be polite and factual, but I’ve been challenging misrepresentations used by proponents of “education reform.”

Today’s example (which triggered the “block” message) is how education reformers are misrepresenting the National Education Association’s (NEA) policy, adopted this weekend, acknowledging that “student learning” should be included as part of teacher evaluations.  The NEA was extremely clear that “student learning” is not properly measured by any current standardized tests, and that such results from these flawed tests should not be used in evaluating teachers. Some education-reform advocates are misrepresenting the NEA policy as supporting the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations.

What I suspect is that when I commented on posts by these education-reform advocates, they or their other “followers” responded by flagging my comment as “abusive.” What I don’t really know is whether these people actually viewed my comments “abusive,” or whether they simply disagreed and wanted to express their displeasure.

Remember that although Facebook lets us “Like” a post or comment, it doesn’t provide a “dislike” or “disagree” or “thumbs down” feature. (I’ve blogged recently about how Facebook may be transforming the meaning of the words “friend” and “like.”)

If someone disagrees with a comment, they have two options: post a response (which requires thought and effort, and which might lead to further exchanges of information or ideas) or simply “flag” the post as abusive.  Nobody reviews these reports for accuracy or motive, but instead Facebook has algorithms which automatically block activity after a certain number of reports; the same is true for nearly all large online communities.

This is a clear message that my personal interest in certain “political” topics, and my desire to correct errors and engage in discussion, are triggering reactions which are interfering with my professional use of Facebook.

The immediate effect of this experience is that I’m going to stop posting comments that reflect disagreement or opposing views, or which challenge factual misrepresentations in Facebook posts or other peoples’ comments. I’ll disengage from discussions beyond the enclave of people who mostly agree with me.  I’ll “unfriend” a few people, and I’ll “unlike” a bunch of Facebook pages.  I’ll say less, and I’ll hear less, and we’ll all exchange fewer ideas.

 

2 Responses to “How Facebook Suppresses Opposing Views and Reinforces Enclaves”

  1. Mark Welch says:

    I’ve just begun “unliking” pages when I see posts that I disagree with, so I won’t be tempted to post responses which might trigger more “abuse” reports.

    As a result, I won’t hear as much from people who disagree with me, and won’t be able to seek out common ground. This is not a positive change.

    See also my book-review of Cass Sunstein’s book, Republic.com: http://www.markwelchblog.com/2002/01/21/54/

  2. Eric Mandel says:

    Strange, I’ve been posting similar comments, some even including exclamatory profanity and have yet to be blocked. Some users must be flagging your comments because they disagree with them. Just yesterday I posted on facebook the following accompaning a link to a WSJ article about schools and teachers cheating on testing:

    Spending some time as a classroom teacher during the current era of “F–k Creative Educators, You’re Only as Good a Teacher as Your Students’ Test Scores” I can assure you this kind of cheating is rampant, and the real losers are the students…

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