If this year has been defined by anything then it’s the unexpected. In politics, Brexit surprised many (although just as many were probably stunned at how close the vote was, no matter how many people suggest it was some sort of landslide). Donald Trump’s imminent presidency is likely to be the gift that keeps on giving to political commentators and reporters.
Both share one thing in common; people on social media, and in particular Facebook, were convinced their side would win even when they didn’t. This is at least in part due to the way in which the Facebook algorithm appeared to work at the time; it found that someone favoured, say, a liberal outlook on life, so it would reflect this back to them.
This realisation coincides with a study from the University of Copenhagen published in the academic journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, which confirms that heavy users of social media and particularly Facebook would benefit from a break from it.
Facebook in moderation
The reasons given in the study have nothing to do with the algorithm. They relate to people’s tendencies towards putting positive stuff on their Facebook feed, how great a day they’re having, how well their kids are doing. The feelings of positivity are counterbalanced by jealousy and this can result in negativity, even when you think you’re just socialising.
The answer, for heavy users at least, is to take a week off, the study suggests. We’d add that this is reinforced by the suggestion that in actually talking to people rather than having views pre-screened by Facebook, rather than having fake news pumped at you by propaganda sites (the pro-Trump tendency has been reported doing this but New Statesman Tech would bet actual cash that all sides are doing it), you might learn something outside the Facebook bubble.
If this sounds a little patronising then consider how many people are commenting on this item, in which Tony Blair reportedly calls for the 17.4m people who voted “leave” to face prosecution. The proposed bill was set for debate in Parliament on 15 December (the article predated it).
It’s baloney of course; even if Blair wanted to imprison 17.4m people, the UK doesn’t have 17.4m prison places to accommodate them; also he’s not an MP so can’t put a bill in place for debate. Even if those things were overcome, the idea that the mainstream media hadn’t spotted a thing like this would be too ridiculous for words.
Taking this into account, check the amount of people reacting to the item – and ask yourself whether they’re actually reading the rebuttals. Blair’s reputation, to a handful of people, is sullied.
So yes, a break from Facebook and other social media may be a good idea because it allows a sense of perspective to re-emerge. To the IT professional or marketer who uses big data it might also be worth bearing in mind that some of the data on which you’re dependent may be based on this sort of misconception. Perhaps 2017 will be the year in which we start to re-examine the quality of data going into our business systems as well as applying skills to analysing it.
Take a break
In the meantime, there’s this festival thing on Sunday in the Western world. Outside bank holidays and weekends New Statesman Tech will continue to offer up fresh content but we won’t be offended if you switch off the machine and take a few days off, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. The stories will still be online when you get back.
Have a tremendous break, spent with real people, and please accept the compliments and best wishes of everybody here.