Does Facebook know your political preference?
You might not be aware that Facebook labels your political preferences even if you don’t state them yourself. Facebook has come up with a system to determine a user’s political leanings, based on the user’s activity on the social network. The labels are not hidden from users and they can be checked by accessing an account’s advertising preferences.
Even if you don’t follow any pages of political figures, Facebook still keeps track of all the pages and posts you “like” to develop your political profile. Even a lot of political meme pages could be fair game to put you on Facebook’s political chart.
In my case, I follow a lot of far-left and far-right pages. So sometimes I get really accurate sponsored ads, and sometimes they are way off. Recently I’ve been getting sponsored ads for a page that claims to promote liberty in North Korea; I guess Facebook figured this was right-down-the-middle for me.
This kind of stuff tends to freak people out a bit and it can cause a lot of people to end up censoring themselves out of fear of being watched; even if they aren’t doing anything wrong or promoting any radical ideas. A lot of people might disagree with me here and argue that we’re all being put on lists to be watched, but as of now in America, keeping track of your political leanings and interests is simply used to sell you crap. It’s just how they determine where to spend money on ads. If you were starting a grassroots-activist organization, you’d want to make sure the ads for your page are hitting the right audience; that’s where the political-tracking comes in.
But that doesn’t mean it will always be this way. Recently Israel attempted to pressure Facebook into shutting down pro-Palestinian groups, pages, and accounts. Facebook refused so Israel decided to create a special task force of their own to find BDS (Boycott Divest Sanction) activists and supporters themselves. Now anyone they find supporting the movement online is at risk for deportation.
Personally, I refuse to censor myself since Facebook is such a great tool to organize activists and like-minded people. Here in the US, we can’t really get into trouble unless we actually try to carry out (or plan) a violent act; but I still take certain precautions. After finding an ISIS news page on Facebook for example, I made sure to put “page ‘likes’ are not an endorsement” in my profile bio. (Hey, I’m a journalist, I need to know what ISIS is up to!) Plus I follow a lot of conspiracy pages for entertainment, and I just don’t want people to think I actually believe that stuff.