Have you noticed that there is very little political content on Facebook these days? There’s a reason for that. From the Facebook Newsroom:
As Mark Zuckerberg mentioned on our recent earnings call, one common piece of feedback we hear is that people don’t want political content to take over their News Feed.
Over the next few months, we’ll work to better understand peoples’ varied preferences for political content and test a number of approaches based on those insights. As a first step, we’ll temporarily reduce the distribution of political content in News Feed for a small percentage of people in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia this week, and the US in the coming weeks. During these initial tests we’ll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people’s feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we’ll use going forward.
That was in February. Apparently, Facebook liked what it was seeing, because, although Facebook hasn’t announced anything, it seems the company has expanded the policy to everyone’s Facebook feeds. Just about everyone in political media is complaining about it because reduced distribution represents reduced revenue and influence. Part of the equation is overly aggressive fact-checkers who actively work to reduce the reach of conservative sites. The other part is the reduction of political content across the board.
The idea behind Facebook’s decision to reduce political content was that in doing so, it would make the platform a happier place for all—a community where we could all share recipes and pictures of our grandkids while avoiding partisan bickering. Facebook vowed to promote Groups, where like-minded individuals could get together to chat on topics of mutual interest, for the benefit of all.
The reality is something completely different—and it’s much worse.
Now, instead of political fights, everywhere you look on Facebook conversations about everything from cooking to kayaking are blowing up into major battles as the scolds and Karens, who once went head-to-head on political posts, are now visiting their hostilities on the most benign groups and conversations.
A few recent examples from my Facebook feed:
A guy in a group for Ohio kayakers posted a picture of himself kayaking on a serene lake. Can you guess what happened next? All the Karens came out to berate him for not wearing a life jacket. The poor victim of the scolds tried to defend himself by pointing out that he was a championship swimmer in college and, besides, he was paddling on still waters. That wasn’t enough, of course. Others weighed in with stories of the bodies of fallen kayakers being pulled from lakes and rivers. My comment on the topic was: “Here’s an idea: how about if we treat people here like the adults they are and trust them to make the best decisions about their own personal safety.” That was met with hostility as well.
In another group focused on homeschooling, a mom asked for advice about her daughter who had some unusual bleeding. Responses ranged from “TAKE HER TO THE ER IMMEDIATELY” (all caps), to warning her that her husband was likely sexually abusing the girl and she needed to throw the bum out NOW. This “advice” went on for hundreds of comments.
I posted a question to an Instant Pot yogurt group last week after my power went out in the middle of the fermentation cycle. The post was promptly deleted by the moderator. “What have I done wrong? Have I unknowingly violated a rule?” I asked the trigger-happy moderator in a DM. I hadn’t, but because I failed to note in my question how long the power had been out, the post had to be deleted. Huh? Couldn’t someone have just asked that in the comments? Nope, that’s a no-no for some reason.
In a group for Ohio birdwatchers, someone new to birding posted a picture of her hummingbird feeder and shared her joy at seeing the magnificent ruby-throated hummingbird for the first time. Two comments into the discussion someone scolded her for using commercially prepared hummingbird nectar containing red dye. Several others also jumped in to berate her about the offending food. Never mind that there’s never been a scientific study proving that such preparations are harmful to hummingbirds. Maybe it’s harmful, maybe it’s not. But don’t tell that to the Karens on Facebook. They made darned sure that poor lady who was enjoying her sweet little neighborhood hummingbirds felt guilt and not joy at the sight of the birds.
The worst scolds I’ve seen thus far have been on a Facebook page for people traveling to St. Thomas in the USVI. I joined the group a couple of months before our trip there hoping to learn about the island and scope out some restaurants and beaches. Hoo wee, was that a mistake. While there was a lot of helpful information, there are several Debbie Downers in the group who regularly take it upon themselves to screech at all the “colonizers” and warn visitors to stay away: “We don’t want you here.” “Keep your diseases on the mainland.” They’re like a regular chamber of commerce!
I’m noticing more and more that people are prefacing questions in these groups with “I hope this doesn’t get me banned, but…” or “If this is inappropriate for the group I will understand if it’s deleted…” People are so fearful of being accused of something untoward or having their posts deleted by aggressive moderators that they feel they must include disclaimers.
Can we please just bring back the political fighting? At least everyone knew what they were getting into when they commented on a political topic. Now, everyone has to walk on eggshells just to ask a question about freaking yogurt because all the rage-filled political commentators have nowhere else to go. Facebook has been reduced to a bunch of grumpy old Karens yelling at people to get off their lawns. How is that better, Mr. Zuckerberg?