Fade To Gray: Social Anxiety

If we are to believe only half of what we saw in the movie “The Social Network” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most socially awkward people on the planet, ironically created the most successful social website since man came out of the cave. And now his invention resides in all of our phones, laptops and homes. That makes him one of the most powerful people on the planet. My question today- is that a good thing?

About seven years ago my boss in TV news ordered me to set up a Facebook page and I reluctantly did so. I looked around at all the other pages that journalist had and decided I didn’t want that. Then I noticed actor Jim Beaver had a very popular page so I studied what he did and realized it was a simple formula for success – make your page one third information, one third funny or thought provoking and the last third personal. If you want to connect with people you had to be willing to give a piece of yourself away to strangers. So that’s what I did and today I am approaching 90,000 followers; not bad for the guy who thought Facebook was stupid.

When I got on Facebook it was run in a way that my grandfather would have called a “straight shooter” ; meaning if you posted something, anything, the people on your page saw it and vice versa. It really wasn’t complicated. Over the years that has changed as Zuckerberg and the dot com millionaires he employees at the top try to take something that works wonderfully and fix it.

I found those changes annoying because the reason I have family and friends on my page is to see the rare moments they want to share something with me. Again it’s a case of Facebook fixing something that was never broken. And now they are doing it again but this new change is truly a concern.

Mr. Zuckerberg recently announced that they will employ an algorithm that will filter out posts from the various news feeds and businesses you may have “liked” or follow. So if you enjoy reading the articles posted by the New York Times, The Huffington Post or Drudge don’t expect them to pop up in your news feed very often. They may on occasion make an appearance but Zuckerberg and his gang have decided you aren’t interacting enough with your friends and family so they plan to force feed you that stuff on your news feed instead. They also will give high priority to things that they think will engage people in conversation, which is misguided because some of the items that get the most conversation are the most moronic. If I post that I just saw Bigfoot walking in the woods off of Western Avenue in Albany and Google image a photo of Sasquatch that is fake I guarantee that post will get people talking, laughing and sharing. But would you rather see that on your feed or a post from your local newspaper or TV station warning you about flooding on local roads?

If you are cynical or just downright paranoid you might also see these changes as a not so veiled attempt to quash certain political views or news. For example if the crowd running Facebook tend to be more liberal might they decide that any articles touting tax cuts, new jobs or a booming economy under this President they loathe are “low priority” and push them down or out of your news feed? We already have people living in echo chambers and only exposing themselves to what they want to see and hear, wouldn’t it be nice if you could click on Facebook and just see what your friends want to share with you?

We are moving into dangerous territory when the people running the pages we live and search on start tweaking what they’ll allow us to see. They can call it an algorithm all they want but behind that fancy word you’ll find flesh and blood humans ultimately making the decision of what you are allowed to see. Is it me or is that just a bad idea? After all, sometimes I enjoy seeing Aunt Ruth’s famous apple cobbler or that Bigfoot making is way to the Starbucks in Stuyvesant Plaza for a grande half-caf latte.

John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Wednesday. Email him at johngray@fox23news.com.

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