CCTP 505: Introduction to Communication, Culture and Technology
Final Reflective Essay 20151216
Unfriend Your Trump-supporting Friends on Facebook
Over these past few months, Donald Trump has been attracting massive public attention and support ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Some of the outrageous comments from this Republican candidate include anti-Muslim policy proposals such as a ban on their entrance to the U.S. For reference, there were an estimated 2.6 million Muslims in the country as of 2010.1 He also proposes to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Domestically, Trump said that Sen. John McCain, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, was not a war hero. Recently, Trump supporters have been very active on social media like Facebook, while some other users might feel uncomfortable to see Trump’s campaign appear on their news feeds. People who like Trump’s Facebook page have increased from 4.6 million people on December 9 to 4.8 million people on December 15. Just last week, Facebook announced a website that is called FriendsWhoLikeTrump that allows users to unfriend their friends who like Donald Trump’s Facebook page. The purpose is to divide Trump supporters and non-supporters in order to minimize conflict. However, this decision creates a problem on a relationship between Trump-supporting users and Trump-non-supporting users. This essay examines interdisciplinary research from the perspectives of Professor Jones in technology law and policy, and Professor Bode in misinformation on social media.
Facebook users have the right to grant other people access to their personal information on Facebook – Facebook also tries to maintain this right. However, FriendsWhoLikeTrump could threaten relationships between Trump’s supporters and critics. Trump supporters have to choose to either continue liking Trump’s Facebook page and potentially be unfriend-ed by their friends or prioritize their friendship by un-liking Trump’s Facebook page. This action is unaligned with the mission of Facebook, which is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.2 Also, it mismatches with Facebook principles, Freedom to Share and Connect.3 In addition, some argue that Facebook took this action in order to know how many active Facebook users.4 The following is a research question from the perspective of technology law and policy: “How does Facebook still comply with its mission and principles, to get people more connected, while some users have to choose between still liking Trump Facebook page and other friends?”
It is unfair to claim that people who like Trump’s Facebook page necessarily support the billionaire in his quest to become the next president of the U.S. nor does it mean that followers agree with all of his controversial statements. Some people became fans of Trump’s page before he announced his candidacy, as he is a businessman, author, and television personality. This trend can cause misidentification because many users immediately unfriend their friends who like Trump without clear indication as to why their friends became fans of Trump’s. Furthermore, it is not the case that all users who click on Trump’s Facebook page are people who actively litter news feeds with information about Trump. Consequently, to unfriend friends just because they like Trump’s Facebook page is quite unreasonable. Here is a research question related to misinformation issue: “What are legitimate reasons that lead Facebook users to unfriend Trump supporting friends?”
There are several ways to approach the two questions I pose. Interview and survey are two methods. First, we need to know Facebook’s intention for FriendsWhoLikeTrump. This can be conducted by interviewing relevant Facebook staff. Additionally, there is no official information from Facebook on this case. Second, we can distribute an online questionnaire to Facebook users, both those who support and don’t support Trump, by asking about the effectiveness of FriendsWhoLikeTrump. The questionnaire would inquire about their satisfaction in using Facebook, and, importantly, about their relationships with friends after unfriend-ing them on Facebook – in a real life.
Facebook might aim to help its users who do not support Trump by making their news feeds less full of Trump material. However, we need to know how many users complain about Trump material. Some users may not feel bad about unfriend-ing people whom they do not really know. Still, it will appear as an aggressive behavior if you unfriend your relatives or colleagues because of Trump. Different political stances should not be a justification to ruin or end relationships. Alternatively, Facebook users can take other actions to receive less information from other users without unfriend-ing them right. Users can select to unfollow the person and remain friends, click the hide post button, and report inappropriate content to Facebook.