Culture //

Fool-proofing Facebook

Evelyn Corr is suspicious of Facebook’s new satire tag.

You know something’s a problem when Facebook develops an app to get rid of it. Privacy was the first to go, and now it’s our right to be gullible fools, incapable of checking sources. This particular assault on the ‘survival of the fittest’ nature of social media comes in the form of a tag to identify satirical articles, currently being trialled by the minions of Mark Zuckerberg, which would no doubt have already flagged down my meagre article if this were featured on the Honi Soit Facebook page.

The concept is simple: if you click on an article from a parody website, such as (spoiler alert) The Onion, related articles will appear with a preface to specify if they’re satirical. Which means if you clicked on that article promoting the values of robot dog sex, Facebook will be stepping in before you have a chance to follow it up with an expose on the ethics of cloning humans and forcing them to fight to death in a pit.

While I’m sure everyone’s initial response is one of shock and outrage that Facebook thinks so little of its users’ intelligence so as to intervene into our dashboard experience, there are, of course, arguments for such a policy. The first being that unless you frequently cleanse your friends list with fire and brimstone, your news feed is full of ignorant toe-jams celebrating the new government policy that welfare recipients must submit their sweat to prove how hard they’re looking for a job, or expressing their horror on the release of Nothing But Tears Shampoo to toughen up newborns. It’s funny when they fall for it with righteous anger, but just depressing when they rejoice over things like Ohio replacing the lethal injection with a more humane head-removal machine. It’s becoming a serious enough concern that have taken it upon themselves to devote a weekly piece to the merciless taunting of these individuals in their BS Stories that Fooled Your Facebook Friends column.

All the same, my primary concern is that such a tag is, in some form, censorship. It begins with satire, then the next step is blacking out those posts about curing lumbago with a barrel full of eel’s eyes and moonlight that your Aunt Norelle from Queensland keeps posting on your wall, and before you know it, only articles approved by the Ministry of Truth and written in Newspeak will ever make it onto your feed. My pettier concern is that it takes all the fun out of social media. After all, I’m only here to stalk attractive retail workers from their nametags and discover how to lose my entire body mass in ten minutes or less using goji berries and a satanic chant. Thanks to Norelle for tagging me in that one, it’ll come in handy.

There is certainly merit to the notion that we should just let those people who believe snorting unground beans will get you high sort themselves out, but all social (media) Darwinism aside, we must consider that there are users of social media without or with limited ability to crosscheck each article they see on social media with reputable news sources. Then again, it certainly isn’t as bad as that time Facebook was discovered to be manipulating the moods of users by tailoring pleasant or unpleasant articles to their news feed, which people often conveniently forget as they continue to feed Big Brother their information.

We can only take comfort from this dystopic future with the newsflash given by The Onion in response to the tag: “Area Facebook User Incredibly Stupid.”

Illustration by Monica Renn.