Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.
I had been suffering a sense of disconnection within my online communities prior to swearing off Facebook likes. It seemed that there were fewer conversations, more empty platitudes and praise, and a slew of political and religious pageantry. It was tiring and depressing. After swearing off the Facebook Like, though, all of this changed. I became more present and more engaged, because I had to use my words rather than an unnuanced Like function. I took the time to tell people what I thought and felt, to acknowledge friend’s lives, to share both joys and pains with other human beings.
2. I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What it Did to Me (Wired Magazine)
My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.
Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com
3. Stress Test for Free Speech (The American Scholar)
In the 20th century, when relatively few people controlled the media, the challenge for a speaker was getting access and opportunity to speak. In the 21st century, most Americans have access to a platform and thus plenty of opportunity. The challenge is for speakers to get listeners to pay attention, to keep their messages from being buried by an avalanche of content, no matter how benign.
It’s much worse when that competing content is malignant. To drown out a viewpoint on social media, bad actors create distraction, disinformation, and demoralization, and they disseminate fake news (including the invention of terrible crimes—called atrocity propaganda), destroy reputations, and regularly make death threats. Some of the most potent attacks happen in the dark, when armies of trolls send private messages so that their targets don’t know who is attacking them.
“All of this,” Tufekci says, “invalidates much of what we think about free speech—conceptually, legally, and ethically. The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself.”
4. What It’s Like to Wallow in Your Own Facebook Data (The Atlantic)
Reading through this archive recalled a moment when time spent online was less anxious, less fraught—a time when Facebook was a website, not a platform; a novelty, not a conglomerate; a lark or procrastination tool, not a threat to democracy. Personalization was the work of the user, not the algorithm––and the dangers of privately controlled, algorithmically determined information flows would have seemed, to me, like the stuff of late-night stoner speculation. These ancient posts were a throwback to a time when nobody knew the name of Facebook’s founder. Why should we have? My peers and I saw the website, like the other social networks we had played with—Xanga, LiveJournal, Friendster, Myspace—as a toy with a shelf life. Eventually it would be phased out, disposed of. We could have probably been forgiven for being a little naive.