Throughout our everyday lives, we are constantly making decisions. We begin our days by deciding what to wear, and maybe deciding what we’d like to eat for breakfast. We decide our mode of transportation for how we reach our place of work or education. We decide what time we’d like to go to bed, and in the morning, we decide what time we’d like to wake up.
Within this newfound age of technology, it is also very easier for other people to know what kind of decisions we make as well. For example, if we go to a new restaurant and try a fancy new dish, we might post a picture to Instagram for all of our new friends to see. If you watch a TV show like 'The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon' or 'The Bachelor,' you might share a tweet on Twitter about the cool new show that you’re watching, with plenty of hashtags of course, so even people who are not your friends might see it.
In some ways, this is not always a bad thing. It can be very convenient to communicate with someone online about a specific product that is difficult to obtain in stores, only to see an ad for that very thing in our newsfeeds. Facebook can also use the microphone on our cellphones to pick up on key conversations we have out loud with others regarding our own consumption.
However convenient this is, this is obviously problematic and very creepy. Many users of social media sites like Facebook consider this a breach of privacy. Many users also are unaware that cookies are being used to store our information, mainly because Facebook informs us of this in very small print in an ancient subtext known as “Terms and Conditions,” something almost no one reads before signing their soul into the world of social media.
But what if social media sites like Facebook track larger pieces of information about us? Articles of clothing, food, movies and TV shows are one thing, but what if Facebook knows what we think about concerning ethics, our worldview and our beliefs? Things that genuinely MATTER to us at the end of the day as opposed to the sweatshirt we put on this morning or the bagel we eat for breakfast?
The truth is, Facebook definitely knows, and other social media sites likely do as well. The easiest way for sites like Facebook to acknowledge things like our ethics, worldview and beliefs is by labeling us as either a liberal, a moderate or a conservative based on content that we chose to engage with in the past.
Now why is this problem? Isn’t this just another convenience factor? Wouldn’t I much rather view content affiliated with my side of the political spectrum anyway? Well, let’s think about this. Once websites like Facebook have collected data regarding what side of the spectrum we fall on concerning politics, they organize your newsfeed based on what they think YOU want to see. If Facebook has you labeled a liberal, you will only be presented with liberal content. If Facebook has you labeled a conservative, you will only be presented with conservative content. This is problematic because it influences a sense of bias that is already instilled within us.
Everyone has bias, no matter who you are or how good you think you are about addressing it. Most of us choose to engage with content that we already know that we agree with, choosing to ignore content that might change our mind about a particular issue or that might open us up to a whole new world of differing opinions, beliefs, and principles.
In some part, this is simply a characteristic of the Western world that we live in. Many of us choose not to engage in new ideas because we like the false sense of stability in thinking that we are firm in our convictions and beliefs and that we can never be open to these new ideas. It's completely normal, almost natural among human beings to hold a kind of bias- it is simply important that you acknowledge it and avoid habits that lead you to very one-sided conclusions.
What is NOT normal, and NOT natural, however, is that a social media site only presents to you information from one side of a ginormous spectrum of values, beliefs, opinions and worldviews. It should be up to YOU to choose which information you engage with out of this ginormous spectrum, and NOT out of a small fraction of it.
So, now that we know Facebook has us labeled, how exactly do we go about un-labeling ourselves?
Start with your settings, typically on the very right side of your screen in a drop-down box. From ‘settings,' you will go to ‘ads.' From ‘ads’ you will go to ‘information.' From ‘information’ you will go to ‘categories,' and there is where you will find your alleged political affiliation as well as other information about yourself you never realized. For example, in my categories, I am labeled ‘frequent traveler.’ P.S. I have never been outside of the U.S.
Facebook makes it slightly tricky for us to access this information, but it is definitely doable. I discovered this method of changing my political affiliation on my laptop, so the directions may be only slightly different for an iPhone or Android, but not by much.
Now that you know a great tool to acknowledge your natural bias, go for it! Take out your political information in order to engage with content from ALL parts of the spectrum. Don’t be afraid to explore new ideas and opinions that seem foreign to you- it will give you a new perspective and will, without a doubt, transform you into a more open-minded, well-rounded individual.
On one final note, have you ever wondered why it is all too easy to get into altercations with Facebook friends and family over politics, of all things? Well, now you at least have an idea.