Can we Manufacture Consent with Social Media?
Anyone who has read my commentary knows that I am prone to philosophical flights of fancy; quite a contradistinction to my day job promoting women’s health and researching hormone systems. This election, however, has me thinking of Noam Chomsky and how he might view the battle between the political propaganda of traditional money and media versus the power of social media.
A recent study by Pew suggested that nearly 40% of all mainstream news coverage focused on politics, apparently down from 53% in 2008. Depending upon the network’s political preference, one was more or less likely to hear positive reports of the chosen candidate or party and negative commentary about the challenger, with sparsely anything in between. The completely insular nature of our major news networks, were by any criteria, manufacturing consent for their viewers. In this post Citizen’s United election, mainstream media and money were so closely merged that nary a fact to the contrary of the stated opinion could break through.
Then there was social media, the vast diaspora of public opinion, where until recently (new Facebook algorithms) news, real and fake, spread like wildfire; where rather than big money selecting who you follow and by association the filters through which your news is served, we, the public can self-filter. We select who serves us our news by the very act of choosing who to follow or who to read. And we in turn can guide the direction of the conversation by choosing to re-tweet or share what we find. This is a remarkably powerful shift in information management, one that big money, no matter how it has tried, cannot yet contain or control.
Your Uterus, Your Ovaries and Social Media
Nowhere was the power of social media more obvious than in the women’s health debates. Beginning in earnest with the Sandra Fluke hearing and continuing through every asinine comment made by a male politico, social media brought voice and power to women in a way never before possible. Here are just a few of the women’s political sites that sprung up this election season.
Without the almost continuous accessibility of news and information and the unlimited degree to which information could be shared on social media, does anyone really think that women’s reproductive rights would have been covered at all by mainstream media? Even post-election, the power of women and social media is barely mentioned by mainstream media, despite the fact that women effectively won the election for the democrats – by 18 points in the presidential race and by equally high margins across federal and state elections.
Social Media and Women’s Reproductive Rights
The silent majority is silent no longer. The question is – for how long? What corporate filters will silence the female masses and re-direct the conversation? Will the pendulum swing again and allow corporate and political money to determine what news we are served even in the social media sphere?
Unfortunately, yes. And it is already happening. The new Facebook algorithms released just last month, decide what news is important to the user (to some extent, it has done this all along, but never so egregiously). It doesn’t matter that users spend years developing a network of friends and followers or that they may really want to see little Susie’s first-day-of school-pictures. Nope, none of that matters. Facebook’s algorithm decides what will interest each user and only shows those feeds. As a result, users are only served about 16% of the content posted by their friends.
Since this latest change, traffic on most Facebook pages, where most political news is conveyed, is down by as much as 60-70%. Imagine if this had happened well before the election (algorithm rolled out at the end of September). Would women, who are the dominant users of Facebook been able to mobilize? Would grassroots organizations have been able to disseminate information effectively? Maybe not.
Though I am certain Facebook’s motivation for these changes is monetary, the ultimate result will be political. And in that regard, Facebook has now become, by their very business model, arbiters of political speech, likely to the detriment of women’s health and all other ‘fringe’ movements that lack the money to market their message. Facebook is manufacturing consent, with all the same news filters Chomsky wrote about 30 years ago, plus the new algorithm filter. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the brainchildren of Facebook controlling my access to news. Twitter anyone?
The irony – Facebook is the public square. So, even though only 16% of our followers will see this post on our page (Lucine Women Community), we must post it there anyway. It’s time for a new public square.