I'm guessing my trend is not unlike many others. I no longer subscribe to any physical newspapers, though I have a love of the Sunday Times. And when I'm opening my day, I usually turn to Facebook first. Yes, I get most of the day's news from Facebook. My friends are the aggregators of what is important in my little bubble of the internet. And it may be hours before I hit a traditional news site to see what they think the headlines are. Take today, for example. Here is the front stories from MSNBC.

And after my hour or so updating and reading Facebook and LinkedIn, there is nothing new or newsy about it. I've read all these stories on Facebook. I'm a bit more skeptical of the "sources" on Facebook, but still, I don't turn to traditional news outlets for the latest news. And in fact, Twitter seems to be the social network for breaking news. So what are the traditional news services to do? And does it matter that Facebook is my filter for life events?

The Grey Lady

The New York Times is still my backup news service. I visit their front page daily to see how they see the stories of the day from around the world. And while I don't read a lot of the stories (I rarely use up my 10 free reads a month) I do get a sense of the news from the headlines. I mean, that's the point of headlines. But I'd say my understanding (of, say, where the fires in California are burning) of the depth of the story is nonexistent unless it is something that interests or concerns me. Most of the news is not personally relevant. And often a picture and headline is more than I need to know. I severely limit my intake of visual news. I did not watch any video of the Las Vegas shooting. I read very few of the stories about the shooter, the hero, or the victims. And that's okay for me. I got the gist of it. I related to it as personally as I could. And I moved on. That's sort of what Facebook News does, it gives you the headlines and allows you to move on to other pressing matters like the Meme-of-the-day and what Colbert said on tv last night.

So does our dependence on Facebook give Zuckerberg and Co. too strong an influence over our world view? Yes. And did the Russian purchase of Facebook Stories and Ads influence the election? Probably. And does the algorithm shape our views of the world by feeding us certain news stories (the ones it knows we will like) rather than a balanced version of the news? Yes. Facebook has a heavy hand when it comes to delivering us the news. Does that matter? Yes. Can we do anything about it? Yes. Check real news services from time to time. Don't use Facebook as THE NEWS. Always check your sources.

This Morning

On Facebook I get the gist of the news. That's all I really want. I want to see if our president has done or said anything outrageous. I want to know if there are any world/us disasters that I should be praying about. And I want to see the memes and jokes of friends. Oh, and the "stories." That's what Facebook is about, the stories of our friends. Except Facebook only shows us about 3% of those stories. Even if we constantly reset the Facebook news feed to "most current" rather than "most popular" Facebook is limiting what we see by squeezing out 97% of our friends news. Instead we see ads, we see sponsored stories, we see people self-promoting their businesses or content. (I do this a lot on Facebook, it's the other 50% of why I'm there.)

But Facebook gives me enough news. And it gives me a little social connection. And there's no other place where I can get the "social" feeling. So we return. I return. We are addicted. I am addicted. Facebook has me by the newsfeed.

As Zuckerberg and Co. are called before congress to testify about the Russian purchase of ads and news space on Facebook, we will learn again just how far the matrix goes. How much of what is on your newsfeed is manufactured bullshit? And how much of that bullshit is designed to sway your opinion or purchasing decisions?

Facebook is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, my friends serve as my news filter. On the other hand, a huge multi-national corporation is setting up my daily news briefings and possibly affecting my daily agenda.

There are a few things I do to mitigate some of the infusion and collection of marketing data about myself. I use several plugins that limit Facebook's ability to track me. I use a few more that kill the "tracking" cookies on most sides. And finally I use a sophisticated ad blocker to clean up my browsing experience.

QUESTIONS: How do you get your news every day? Does Facebook have an unsafe level of influence on American politics? How can we connect differently online?

MUST READ: What Facebook Did to American Democracy – The Atlantic

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

A few of the networks you will find me on:

  • linkedin – the professional networking and contacts social site
  • twitter – the firehose of sharing (mostly social media, funny, and odd political)
  • facebook – recently launched uber.la facebook page
  • google+ – gathering all that’s googled in one place
  • pinterest – what started as fashion sharing is rapidly becoming the visual delicious
  • my Amazon Author’s Page: John Oakley McElhenney
  • my about.me/jmacofearth page < way more connections than you’ll ever need about me
Sharing is nice for everyone.

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