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As election season draws closer–which by the way is one of the most contentious presidential elections to date–lines are being drawn in the sand as both conservatives and liberals push their candidates forward for consideration. It should come as a surprise to no one that this political dialogue is being carried out not only on the streets of Washington, but on Facebook comment threads.
What is surprising, though, is that Facebook can now determine whether you’re more of a liberal or a conservative.
Since its creation by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, Facebook has become the go-to social network for people and businesses alike. By 2015, there were already over 1.4 billion monthly active users on the network, meaning more people use Facebook per month than live in China. That’s a lot of people with a lot of opinions Facebook can mine through.
It can seem like Facebook has a super secret formula that analyzes everything you type, using a logic machine that most of us can’t begin to understand to find out everything there is to know about us, but the fact of the matter is that the process is really simple. Facebook’s algorithm just looks at the stuff you like. Obviously if you like the Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump page, Facebook will sort you accordingly, but it does go deeper. If you like a company or organization and they identify as liberal or conservative, Facebook will probably sort you onto that side as well.
You can check to see how you’ve been sorted. If you’re on Facebook, you can go here, click on the “Lifestyles and Culture” tag in “Interests”. Under it should be a “US Politics” box (which you might have to hit “see more” to see). Facebook will show whether they think you’re a Republican, Democrat, or in between.
So what does Facebook do with this information? Is it put on a special NSA watch list for political dissidents? Once again, the answer is simpler (but perhaps just as insidious). Facebook uses your political information for ads. Election day is coming closer, and both Republicans and Democrats will begin pouring money into their marketing campaigns, and Facebook is fertile campaigning ground for both sides. Politically moderate users are prime targets for these types of ads.
Facebook has been notorious for monitoring their users’ activities in order to effectively target advertising, and for Zuckerberg, it’s a compelling business strategy. Facebook has the ability to generate $3.8 billion in video ad revenue by 2017, according to Variety. Ads and sponsored content are now big business, and Facebook is at the forefront. More and more people are leaving traditional news outlets in favor of their news feed, and Facebook knows this. As businesses flock to Facebook for that sweet spot between status updates, Facebook’s sorting algorithm makes the consumer easier and more profitable to taylor to.