It was the summer of 2019 and I sat there reflecting on our friendship. We’ve been together since 2006. We shared many milestones together. Our lives became intertwined, and we became inseparable. When reflecting on our relationship, I realized I was putting more effort into the relationship than I was getting out of it. I had to leave.
In July of 2019, it was my last day on Facebook, forever.
It was strange the next morning. There wasn’t a glowing screen in my face. Deleting Facebook was the best thing I have ever done. I found myself valuing time for other things, and felt a return to a happier person I once was. I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone anymore, and started to live in the moment, just appreciating the minutes as they passed by.
My departure comes after a long journey of frustrations, leading to the point of no return. I rarely posted on Facebook. I was a lurker. I started to become frustrated with the lack of genuine content, as people curated their own examples of their perfect lives, constantly flaunting their life choices seeking self affirmation. Then in early 2016, I started seeing a totally different experience. It felt like there was a war brewing. My friends’ photos of their pets were being replaced with blathering political posts. Battle lines were being drawn, soldiers armed with misinformation.
Something a little more nefarious was taking place behind Facebook’s curtains. A company called Cambridge Analytica found a way to manipulate media, and weaponized misinformation. Essentially, Cambridge Analytica created a personality quiz. The quiz generated a user’s personality. Seems harmless, right?
It gets much darker. Cambridge Analytica then collected data of every single “friend” connected with the person who took the quiz. They then used this data to highly predict people’s personalities and behavior. They used this data to create hundreds of thousands of false posts and content that explicitly targeted users’ anxiety and fears. Misinformation abound, people were becoming radicalized.
Karim Amer’s documentary “The Great Hack,” was an eye opener for me. After viewing the film, I could actually identify family members who were directly manipulated and radicalized by this practice. This film was the breaking point for me. As a consumer, I felt betrayed. Facebook was now dead to me. My wife and I deleted our Facebook accounts the next morning.
Cambridge Analytica wasn’t the only operation creating false content that manipulated people. Countries like Russia also created fake content that targeted Americans. Just recently, Russia was revealed, again, to be targeting American’s with misinformation. This practice is still happening, the consequences are dire. Misinformation and social media campaigns have deeply divided America into partisan tribes, created a serious distrust of journalists, added fuel to hateful and baseless conspiracy theories, have exacerbated 2020’s battle with COVID-19, and has made racism a flashpoint in America.
“Media literacy has become a center of gravity for countering “fake news.”
-Monica Bulger, Patrick Davison, Data Society
It all comes down to media literacy, and man, the United States is in trouble! According to a Wineburg and McGrew (2016) study, 80% of middle schoolers could not distinguish the difference between an actual news story and a native advertisement. In another study, PhD historians performed worse than professional fact checkers evaluating online content for its accuracy.
Investment in education, specifically media literacy programs, can help, however, it isn’t the only solution. A robust, deep, cross-curricular approach is needed. Media literacy needs to be embedded in almost every class across America. The Brookings Institute argues: “Everyone has a responsibility to combat the scourge of fake news. ” I couldn’t agree more!
I deleted my Facebook account 10 years too late. I just hope we are not too late to improve America’s media literacy problem.