Election Shock Popped The Progressive Bubble On Facebook

Some are logging off, others turn to activism.
Getty ImagesHuffington Post Illustration

Hillary Clinton’s election loss was like an earthquake that shook progressives out of their bubble on Facebook, where friends were sharing stories about how she was certain to win. A Donald Trump defeat seemed inevitable, and a scroll through your news feed confirmed this.

The disruption was seismic. And the aftershocks and fallout are just taking shape. But for now, on Facebook, there’s no going back.

“Reading news about Trump or seeing a photo of him shaking hands with Obama. What is a bigger kick in the face that that?” said former Facebook employee Antonio García Martinez, who’s written a book about the company called Chaos Monkey. “People on Facebook live through stories that confirm their beliefs.”

News stories these days do everything but that.

“My sister started gloating [about Trump’s win] and tagged my mother and me and it turned into a shitfest,” said Violet Skinner, a disaster recovery consultant in West Palm Beach, Florida. Skinner, didn’t support either of the main candidates for president, but said she was still surprised Trump won.

The 33-year-old unfriended her sister.

Checking Facebook just isn’t the same any more. Since the Nov. 8 election, many people have changed the way they interact with Facebook, according to interviews with a dozen or so active users who opposed Trump.

Some said they disconnected from friends and family, deleted the app from their phones or drastically scaled back use. Others have come out of the political closet, posting aggressively about their views and engaging with those who don’t agree with them. Many are using it to organize anti-Trump meetups, marches and other kinds of activism.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, is under fire this month for fake news stories, but users of the social network aren't just upset about hoax stories.
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, is under fire this month for fake news stories, but users of the social network aren't just upset about hoax stories.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I thought about quitting Facebook,” said Christina Carrell, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mother from Medford, New Jersey. Instead, Carrell, who was an intern for Obama campaign in 2008 but sat out the next two elections, worked with her friend Holly Kline of Marlton, New Jersey, to start a local chapter of Pantsuit Nation, the pro-Clinton Facebook group that sprung up during the end of Clinton’s candidacy.

This week, Carrell met up in person with the women from her chapter at a local restaurant.

“We spent two hours talking and chatting, almost like a bereavement group,” Carrell said. An older woman in the group had only just joined Facebook days before, Carrell added. “She created a Facebook account this past week so she could get involved after the election.” The group’s next goal is to organize busses for an upcoming march on Washington, D.C., after the inauguration.

Facebook is under fire this month for possibly influencing the outcome of the election by allowing fake news to go viral on the site. These users are mad about that, but they’re angry for other key reasons, too.

Some say they feel betrayed by the social network. They used it for news, but were fed a story about the election that turned out to be flat-out wrong.

Facebook’s algorithm is geared to give you the kinds of stories you want to see. And people want to see stories that confirm their world view. The company’s own research demonstrates this, noted Zeynep Tufekci, one of the leading researchers looking at the social network’s real-world effects, in The New York Times this week.

This reporter apparently has many Facebook friends who voted for Trump, but hardly saw their status updates.

“I used to use it as a news feed but now I feel cheated, it didn’t actually give me news, it gave me content it thought I wanted to see,” said Refinery29 journalist Liat Kornowski, a former HuffPost editor well-schooled in social networks. Kornowski said she’s unfollowed many of her friends and, for news, she’s now looking at the Times app and Apple News. “I never thought Facebook was unbiased or anything but did not realize how bad it was.”

Other Facebook friends have gravitated to Instagram and bathed in the soothing visual photos of puppies and other waffle brunches. Several Facebook users said they would stop using the site altogether ― some of them messaged me their intentions on Facebook’s Messenger service.

It’s unclear how long any of this lasts. If soon enough, activist inclinations fade and the desire to argue with your conservative high-school friends burns out.

The site at this point is how 44 percent of Americans get their news, according to Pew. But we’re not going to Facebook for news, really. It’s just there.

More importantly, Facebook is where friends and family hang out. And the company, recognizing this earlier in the year, rejiggered its algorithm to allow users to see more news from loved ones, like pics of your sister’s baby or photos from the Guatemalan vacation your former colleague is taking, instead of stories that news outlets post.

In the end, it will be hard for most users to stay away. They’ll miss birth announcements and relationship status updates. The thing is, we like staring at our phones, joking around with friends, reading anecdotes about how your friend can’t ever drop off his kid to school on time and feeling smug because you can.

People will go back to their little bubbles, eventually. And probably that means Facebook. Snapchat, and a million other social networks, are ready to pounce if not.

This story has been updated to note that Carrell co-founded her local Pantsuit Nation chapter.

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