On June 5, California holds its congressional primaries and in one largely rural district, there is a new kind of money entering politics: payments to Facebook, where messages can be sharply targeted and it's cheaper to advertise than on radio, TV or newspapers. In CA's 4th Congressional District, one political novice bought his way into relevance using the social network, and has helped shape a hotly contested Democratic race, stirring up animosity in the process.
In whatever corner of the world Facebook is operating, it has become clear that people are using this powerful platform as a communications tool in ways that Mark Zuckerberg never envisioned. He started the company as a young Harvard undergrad 13 years ago to connect students. It expanded exponentially since then under his supremely techno-utopian vision of connecting the world. For Zuckerberg, connecting the world means bringing people together. But increasingly the platform is being used by some very powerful elements to do the exact opposite: sow divisions.
If you do a Google search on the World Cup game in which Germany slaughtered Brazil 7-1, the top results will say things like "destroy," "defeat," and "humiliate." But Google itself is choosing to steer clear of negative terms.
The company has created an experimental newsroom in San Francisco to monitor the World Cup, and turn popular search results into viral content. And they've got a clear editorial bias. After the dramatic defeat by Germany, the team makes a revealing choice to not publish a single trend on Brazilian search terms. Copywriter Tessa Hewson says they're just too negative. "We might try and wait until we can do a slightly more upbeat trend."
In old-school newsrooms, the saying goes: if it bleeds, it leads. Because this new newsroom is focused on getting content onto everyone's smartphone, Agrawal says, editors may have another bias: to comb through the big data in search of happy thoughts.