How Facebook and Twitter betrays you

You will can easily be betrayed by yourself if you use Facebook, Twitter, or even Google Reader for your source of daily news. These sites may lead you to succumb to your primal desires, dulls your perspective and narrow down your world-view. You’ll need to be aware of their potential pitfalls if you want to continue being productive.

(photo by turtlemom4bacon)

Relying on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites to get your news may look like a good idea at first. After all, you only follow people that shares your idea of what are interesting and thus you feel that you can get more relevant news from them. This way you’re relying on the group that you’ve put together to vote up compelling websites and memes and vote down the boring ones.

However, using similarly minded people as the filter to determine relevancy may actually cause you to miss out the important things and eventually lose your perspective. Pretty soon you can find your sphere of thought filled with LOLcats, Justin Bieber jabs, gossips, and other “amusing” but non-actionable trivia.

How can that be? Two reasons why. First reason is that relying on social media gives way to groupthink that makes your brain numb and then unable to see beyond the herd. The second reason is that Facebook’s adaptive feed algorithm amplifies and feeds your desire of junk food (or in this case junk news). If you rely on social media sites as your source of information, you will easily fall into these traps.

Facebook’s feed roll tend to present more updates from people that you click more often, that’s why it’s called adaptive. This has the dangerous implication that you get more news from less people and thus limiting your world-view’s diversity. If you tend to click more on people who post pictures of their cats, you will get more cats in your feed stream. This algorithm has been shown to exist in Beware Online Filter Bubbles (Eli Pariser, TED Talk, February 2011)** and it’s not unique to Facebook. Google also do this in their search engine and their Google Reader application.

The problem is that there is a constant battle inside every one of us between our higher selves and the inner animal within us. There is our higher consciousness that tells us to eat vegetables and exercise and there is the inner devil inside us that lures us to eat potato chips and watch Ace Ventura all day long. Similarly there is the part of us that whispers us to only read insightful and actionable news and the other part just want to play Farmville and watch YouTube. Google and Facebook’s adaptive algorithms amplifies the louder voice and mutes the softer one – this is good if your higher consciousness is strong and bad if you’re easily swayed by desires of quick distractions.

Then how you can get balanced yet relevant news? One way is to use an RSS reader that have a pre-set mix of reading lists and doesn’t try to second-guess what things you might like based on what you click. You use your super-ego to setup this regimen of news and then the application essentially self-discipline you into reading just these. By having a pre-set list, you will be able to get to all of the relevant news and will not get caught in a time sink on a particular trivia.

News Anchor is one of these RSS reader applications. You can setup channels based on the time of day that you want to get news (for example, breakfast, lunch, or dinner) and fill it with a balanced set of news feeds that you feel are worthy for that routine. News Anchor will then play a mock news broadcast (similar of the news you get on television) so that you can both listen to the news and get your other things done.

So what are you waiting for? Download News Anchor today.

** Note that Eli Pariser’s video was removed from the main website (probably due to either Google’s or Facebook’s request). Alternative videos are available from vodpod and youtube.


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