Happy Friday. We just can’t help it: today, like everyone else, we’re talking about Facebook. As you may or may not know, prior to founding the Voter Formation Project, our CEO, Tatenda, was Facebook’s Client Solutions Manager for Democratic Politics. So you could say we have a few thoughts today.
First, it’s important to note that almost *everyone* doing voter registration or mobilization work online uses Facebook. Millions of Americans spend time on Facebook every day, making it a surefire way to reach voters and nonvoters alike and, in our case, encourage them to register and turn out to vote. And we’ll be the first to admit it: running ads on Facebook has been a pretty good way to reach voters that we would otherwise have a pretty hard time connecting with. But as we found out in a big way this week, Facebook has a lot of issues.
But we’ve known about some of these issues for a while. This week, we heard a lot of discussion about Facebook’s algorithms. Specifically, about how they’re biased towards sensational, divisive, and often damaging content - content that drives the most clicks, comments, and reactions. But, crucially, users are most likely to engage with content that they already agree with, meaning that these algorithms are also biased to show users content they’re already familiar with.
For us, this means that it’s really hard to get voting content to people that Facebook doesn’t already peg as civically engaged. And you already know who Facebook thinks is more likely to be engaged: older, whiter, and more educated Americans. The same Americans who are already way overrepresented in the voting electorate. When we try to do the work of registering and mobilizing underrepresented voters, Facebook’s algorithms actively work against organizations like ours.
Given all of the criticisms about Facebook, you may ask: why do we use the platform? Despite its problems, it’s also true that Facebook allows us to reach our audiences at scale in an environment where they may already be encountering misinformation or disinformation about voting. We can’t cede our pro-voting voice on a widely used platform: we don’t believe in bringing a knife to a gunfight.
But it’s never been more obvious that reforms are necessary-- and fast. We know that Facebook has the capacity to make the changes necessary to become a safer, more honest, and more equitable space. And we have the power to hold their feet to the fire until they do.
Thanks for reading, y’all.