Brandon Wetherbee is the host of the You, Me, Them, Everybody talk show. See him Friday, October 6 with Wesley Lowery, Camille Roberts, Haywood Turnipseed Jr, Allison Lane and more at The Wonderland Ballroom in Washington, D.C.
For the last five years I’ve seen targeted ads for video games, diapers and Christian jewelry. I do not play video games, do not have a child and do not wear jewelry, let alone Christian themed jewelry. Why am I shown ads for products that I have no interest in purchasing? I lied. On Facebook.
A few years ago I decided to like everything that came across my timeline. I liked every post, every targeted ad, every suggested fan page. I wanted to see what would happen. What happened is exactly what you thought would happen. I’m a marketer’s mystery. I’m perfectly OK with this. In fact, it’s great to know how easy it is to manipulate algorithms. It’s incredibly disheartening when you realize most people are sincere on Facebook.
Facebook is not my guide for life. But for others, it is. For others, it’s their main source of news. More importantly, it’s their feedback loop for what they perceive is news. This is why $100,000 of ads goes a very long way on the Internet’s largest social media platform.
Last week the most shared article on my Facebook page was The Atlantic’s essay by Ta-nehisi Coates “The First White President.” It’s great and not-at-all surprising. TL;DC: Racism won the 2016 election. The following three sentences are a good summation of the excellent long read. “Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. Hillary Clinton simply could not be correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a candidate because of bigotry.”
But no one wants to talk about racism (or sexism, but I’ve gotten into too many pointless discussions on whether the 2016 election was about racism or sexism, like they’re mutually exclusive forms of bigotry). Racism is uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t be avoided. But it’s almost pointless to get in a conversation with mom or dad about why they voted for someone you don’t agree with. So here’s a work-around when dealing with racist parents: obtain, with permission, your parents Facebook log in info and change your parents Facebook algorithm.
Not sure how to obtain your parents Facebook password? Ask them. Tell them you need to look something up in their Facebook. Is looking something up in someone else’s Facebook page a thing? Nope. But do they know that? Nope. Just get permission and like everything that might not align with their world view. That’s it. Just like pages that spread messages that are not racist. Or sexist. Or homophobic.
If your parent won’t give you their password (once again, not advocating breaking any laws) just wait until you see them next and ask to use their smart phone or computer. I guarantee you they’re logged in to Facebook, email and anything else that requires a password.
Related, if you’re able to obtain your parents Facebook account info, you most likely have their email account password too. Ask for permission and then go into that and mark certain mailing lists as spam. And unsubscribe.
Your parents are most likely going to continue watching whatever preferred cable network that echoes their beliefs. You can block certain channels on their cable package but that’s a pointless endeavor since it’ll be instantly noticeable and easy to fix with a call to Comcast. The goal of altering the social media algorithms of a racist (or sexist) parent isn’t to change their mind. It’s to show them not all media is saying the same thing. Confirmation bias is a big, bad thing that only grows stronger with age.
It’s not possible to turn back time. It doesn’t matter how many articles you share (no one is reading your actually-based-in-actual-facts-argument unless they already agree with the premise) or signatures you obtain for your petition. Trump is president. That doesn’t mean you can’t mess with someone’s Facebook algorithm.
Do I think this excuses or will change beliefs? No way. I’m not insane. Your racist parent is probably going to still be racist but this will probably do more good than having a good old heart-to-heart. Even if it doesn’t, it’ll make it a little bit more difficult for Facebook to sell a targeted ad to your loved one and isn’t that something both sides of the aisle can get behind?