It's tough to avoid political opinions and heated conversations while scrolling down a social media feed. But there are conflicting opinions over what factors go into whether the political posts on any given feed lean left or right. Possibilities include the political preference of online friends, which type of media a user frequently 'likes' on the social network and whether the user shares conservative or liberal content.
But a new survey from Pew Research Center finds many believe it isn't only the user's actions that dictate what they'll see on their feed. According to the study, the majority of U.S. adults think the powers that be at the social media networks are using their own political leanings to decide what all users see in their feeds. Seventy-two percent of those asked "think it likely that social media companies intentionally censor political viewpoints that those companies find objectionable."
And most often, the type of viewpoints Americans think the companies might find objectionable are those that promote a conservative agenda, according to the survey. Forty-three percent of Americans surveyed say the companies support the views of liberals over conservatives while only 11 percent believe it's the opposite.
Republicans surveyed especially think there's a liberal slant when it comes to social media companies' political preferences. Sixty-four percent of surveyed Republicans say major tech companies support liberal views over conservative ones. But only 16 percent of Democrats say the companies prefer conservative views over liberal ones.
During Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before Congress in April, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz questioned him about whether the social network was truly neutral. "There are a great many Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship," Cruz said.
Earlier this week, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Pinterest and Facebook all claimed violation of rules against hate speech as the reason they removed material from controversial InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Facebook released a statement to explain the pages it took down were in violation of its community standards banning hate speech that attacks or dehumanizes others.
On Twitter, Jones placed blame on liberal bias. "What conservative news outlet will be next?" he tweeted.
As social media platforms face scrutiny about possible ideological bias, they haven't released any clear public statements (that I can find) denouncing the accusations. Rules and terms of agreement are often opaque and the average user has no access to details about how the companies make decisions on removing what they consider to be content in violation.
Until the companies explain how their algorithms work with complete transparency, users are left to try to control the content they see on their own. There are options out there to help you avoid getting dragged through the political swamp on social media.
Social Fixer is a plugin that allows users to use keywords to filter which posts they see. Users can create their own filters by choosing names and words they no longer want to see, or they can select one of Social Fixer's pre-made filters. Users can choose to never see any posts related to U.S. politics, for example, and the filter even keeps a constant eye out for new buzz words in the political world to add them to the filter.
Another Facebook option is to simply unfollow the person or page posting the objectionable content. When a user sees another person spewing political vitriol, they can click the three dots on the top right of the story and select unfollow. A less permanent choice is to select snooze to unfollow the page or person for 30 days.
The mute feature allows users to remove an account's tweets from your timeline without unfollowing or blocking an account. Blocking is much more severe, stopping all communication from that account — the user will not be able to follow you, see your tweets or message you. The mute option retains the other account's ability to follow you and even message you, although you will never see any tweets from their account. To mute an account, tap the down arrow at the top of one of their tweets, then tap Mute and Yes to confirm.
Users can also mute specific words or phrases from either their timeline, notifications or both for a set amount of time. To set these filters, click on your profile picture and then Settings and Privacy. In the bar on the left, click on Muted Words and then Add to type in the words or phrases you no longer want to see.
The help section tells users that in order to remove unwanted photos from their feeds, they should find new people to follow to push the unwanted photos out. Other options include simply unfollowing an account, or completely blocking them. On Instagram, blocking someone bars them from finding your profile, posts or Insta Stories. The blocked person will not be notified.