If you’ve read the news lately, you know that Facebook has been accused of manipulating the content it puts in front of 1.6 billion users, instead of providing them with a healthy, balanced diet of objective, well-researched information.
Facebook, some people argue, is cynically skewing the way we see the world, as if the social network bears the responsibility of some sort of public service instead just being a free, digital place where you can write “happy birthday!” and share photos of your adorable children and pets.
The company I work for sometimes buys Facebook ads that appear on the newsfeeds of people we think might want to use our services. One of these people sent us an angry message recently, telling us to “stop spreading spam!!!
“I didn’t like you,” he wrote. “Get off my page!”
It’s not really your page, I wanted to tell him. You don’t own it or pay for it. The page, and everything on it, belongs to Facebook. But instead of getting into an argument about privacy rights with an upset truck driver from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, I gently instructed him on how to disable our ad with just a couple of clicks in his account settings.
Regardless of what Facebook’s role is or isn’t, any organization with 1.6 billion members has enormous influence. In an effort to test this power, I spent a full week using Facebook as my only source of news and information, just to see what it would do to me.
Here are the 11 most important things I learned from my week on Facebook:
- That no one posts about the presidential election anymore, either because they’re sick of hearing about it or too depressed to comment on it.
- That Winston Churchill was famous for uttering the phrase, “You’ve got to fight for the right to party.”
- That a pooped puppy and a tired police officer fall asleep at an animal shelter, and you won’t believe what happens next!
- That my friend’s wife likes to paint her toenails aqua before going on a trip to Cozumel.
- That when you scroll across a link promising photos of serial killers when they were children, you cannot help but to open it.
- That because you once listed To Kill a Mockingbird as a favorite book, Facebook thought you might be like to buy a To Kill a Mockingbird T-shirt or perhaps an Atticus Finch beer koozie.
- That a photo that captures someone in the crowd holding up a smartphone at a Mike Tyson fight proves, finally, that time travel exists.
- That you feel kind of dumb for commenting—again—on a post that a friend re-posted from three years ago.
- That you really want to tell Hillary Clinton, “Get off my page! I didn’t like you!”
- That when you scroll across a link promising embarrassing pet photos, you have no choice but to open it.
- That most people want to just post pictures of their kid graduating high school or a good-looking sunset, or they want to wish someone happy birthday—which is what Facebook was designed for in the first place.