Liberal, moderate or conservative? What does Facebook know, anyway?

Published 2:35 am Saturday, August 27, 2016

A story in The New York Times reeled me right in this week.

“Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You,” the headline said.

“This should be good,” I thought.

I had often wondered why certain things appeared in my “feed.” The article promised that I could now easily determine how the social media giant’s algorithms have categorized me.

“Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page,” the newspaper reported. “Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.”

I took a few minutes and followed the instructions, which told me to go to, and under the “lifestyle and culture” tab, I was to look for “US Politics.”

I giggled when I found the answer. Facebook has me pegged not as conservative, but very conservative.

I couldn’t wait to talk about this with some of the people who derisively dismiss me as “that liberal editor,” or argue politics with me assuming I’ll take the left side. It happens at coffee hour at the Episcopal Church (I’m thinking of you, George Barnes); any time I bump into John Howard (I miss those conservative letters, my friend); and in discussions with John Vick, who at least points out that while we disagree on some things, we agree on others.

I actually think of myself as a centrist or moderate, and explain the same to my newspaper friends, adding, “But everything is relative, and where I live, that sometimes makes me a flaming liberal.”

When I tell the same thing to my attorney brother, he says, “Oh, good grief. People just don’t understand what open-minded means.” He’s touting Trump, by the way.

But back to the algorithms. If Facebook thought I was “very conservative,” I couldn’t wait to get home and hack into Mr. Honey’s account. He is, after all, the man who posts multiple times a day about Bernie Sanders’ revolution, and who actually sat at the Kiwanis Center holding up “Bernie” signs the day of Alabama’s presidential preference primary. If, based on my limited activities, they judged me “very conservative,” I figured he’d be an off-the-charts liberal at best, and possibly even an anarchist.

Alas, he is only categorized “liberal.” Yep. The same man who put Ross Perot signs in our yard back in the 90s got the big “L” from Facebook.

Nick Saban for president. What does Facebook know, anyway?


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.