Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Why has my Facebook news feed become a news feed? I scroll down endlessly and for the most part, all I see are articles from Vice News, Huffington Post, Washington Post, you name it. To be completely honest, it seems that Facebook has become a lineup of the day’s articles written by know-it-all (political) pundits. Why are articles so appealing? And what’s the problem with their overuse?
The appeal of an article depends on what type of article it is. First, there’s the Buzzfeed/Upworthy/etc. article. These articles are obviously purely meant for entertainment, and usually go along the lines of “14 Perfect Complements To Your Peanut Butter Passion” (actual title) or “You Wouldn’t Believe What This Little Boy Found At The Bottom Of The River…” or “The Stuff Found In This Abandoned Wal-Mart Is Crazy.” Yes, we know. They found 8 cans of Progesso soup and some diapers. Woohoo. Love that Rollback pricing. Honestly though, these can be pretty entertaining, and many times very accurate (see Buzzfeed Article on “24 Reasons Why (insert state) Is the Best). These articles are pretty harmless, except for the fact that they’re excellent ways to start your three hours of procrastination.
Then, there is the scientific article. They usually either cover incredibly large-scale discoveries within the field of astronomy/astrophysics, or incredibly small-scale findings within the field of quantum mechanics(Higgs Boson), or genetics(DNA). These articles are awesome. They are able to simplify scientific findings of huge importance into a compact article that is easily accessible to almost everyone old enough to be using Facebook. The democratization of information and knowledge has been an important process throughout history, from the creation of writing, to the printing press, to the internet. Having information/knowledge readily available to such a vast array of people tremendously benefits our society, especially the youth.
In terms of knowledge and information, it is also important to mention that there are relatively unbiased news articles that can provide crucial facts about any important story happening in the US or in the world. However, most news articles, and news websites, tend to have a specific bent, whether it is conservative or liberal. It’s important to both find unbiased sources and compare various sides of the story as well. Being well informed on both domestic and foreign issues is crucial, especially for those of voting age. Misinformed and uninformed voters are detrimental for democracy — thus, having a solid understanding of the issues, as well as politicians’ standings on them, is crucially important for the well-being of our country.
The final type of article is the opinion article — one that probably makes up many, if not most, of the articles you see on Facebook. There’s nothing really inherently dangerous about an opinion article. Regardless of who you are, you are most likely flooded with countless opinions everyday on topics ranging from Pokémon to the Affordable Care Act, from all avenues of media. The problem is the utilization of opinion articles as a way to project one’s own views. It seems as if a growing number of people are turning to opinion articles to share their positions on various issues, instead of formulating their own viewpoints through critical thinking and thorough research. And the appeal of opinion articles is right there — the super-qualified writers from (insert newspaper/magazine) do all the thinking, research and writing for you. All you have to do is click share, and there it is, a well-written synopsis about how you feel about the subject with some great statistical references and maybe some anecdotes as well.
I’ve posted opinionated articles/videos myself to try to share my side of the story. To a certain extent, it’s perfectly okay to do that. It can provide a better-worded, better-put-together version of what your opinion or argument is. It can also give your friends an opportunity to read more thoroughly about what your side of the issue is. However, obsessively, deliberately posting different articles saying the same thing can just get straight up counterproductive. After a certain point, you’re not contributing anything new, or original, to the debate (or should I say dialogue) going on. You’re not engaging in a meaningful discussion with your peers about what the problem at hand is and how it should be fixed. Let’s look at an example.
The first significant issue that comes to my mind is the topic of what has happened, and what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. You’ve probably seen a bunch of articles about how Ferguson shouldn’t be made a race issue,etc. — posted by people who obviously believe that the global outcry is not completely justified. On the other side, you’ll see a bunch of articles about all the problems within the prosecution of the case, about how the KKK was in Ferguson, etc. (This article is an opinion on our obsessions with articles, and not an opinion on Ferguson, so I will not delve into that issue as I’ll only have a few sentences to talk about it, and that is not nearly enough.) What significant contribution is one making to the discussion by repeatedly posting different articles that essentially come from the same train of thought? Not to mention, these views are not even of one’s own original thinking. All that is happening is that everybody’s news feed is being flooded by repetitive articles.
Instead of repeatedly and obsessively posting articles, engage in meaningful dialogue with your peers, and ideally, in person. Adhere to a high standard — don’t let others do the thinking for you. It’s easy to fall into a static state in which you are surrounded by “qualified opinions” that push you deeper into ignorance of the other side of the story. Think critically. Do your research. Post a couple articles if you want. Maybe even add a Buzzfeed Quiz in there titled “Which Of Taylor Swift’s Cats Are You?” to break the tension. Above all though. Share this opinion article.