Political Preferences on Facebook: Reflective or Defective?

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Political Preferences on Facebook: Reflective or Defective?

Whether you consider yourself to be a politically involved individual or not, there’s no escaping the slew of political posts and ads that start appearing on Facebook during election seasons. As congressional elections approach in November, my feed has become more and more crowded with them. In the past, I’ve always read through them without much thought as to where they were coming from. However, I recently learned about Facebook’s political algorithm.

Essentially, Facebook makes an “educated guess” about each person’s political affiliation based on the posts they’ve viewed and clicked on, as well as on other people who like the same pages. They categorize people as either Very Liberal, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Very Conservative. You can see how Facebook has labeled you by going to your ad preferences. You will also find that any political sponsored ads will usually align with that same label.

When I checked my own assumed affiliation, I found it to be somewhat wrong. I follow plenty of people with different political beliefs and click on all sorts of articles, so I’m not sure what went wrong. The incorrect guess itself didn’t bother me, but seeing sponsored ads and posts for only one side of the political spectrum did. I’d prefer to see an array of them all so I can make a balanced voting decision. In the end, I went to my settings and removed the political category altogether.

The whole process has me wondering: how many people have been politically miscategorized? If I had to guess, there are probably a lot of people out there who have no idea that they’re being fed mismatched posts. Even if Facebook correctly labels someone’s affiliation, however, is it a good thing to only see posts with which they align? Different people might answer that differently, but in the end it’s up to each person to go to their settings and decide whether they want to keep the political category.


Lauren Axmann

Lauren Axmann

September 25, 2018at 2:41 pm

BRB checking mine right now! This is crazy! And super weird. And a little creepy. I don’t want to be told what I am, and I definitely don’t think feeding people affirmation of what they already think is productive.

Nicole Hand

Nicole Hand

September 25, 2018at 2:43 pm

I recently did a blog post about how much about your life Facebook can put together based on your own searches and your friend’s click history. Many times I think we get very paranoid how accurate Facebook always is about guessing our consumer preferences, but I have never really thought about the implications of them being wrong. I can’t help but wonder if they have used this information for anything previously since they have a history of sharing their data with other sources.

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