According to Facebook, one out of every seven people on the planet is entrapped in its web of “likes”, sepia-tinted photographs and “#blessed” hashtags. So a year-end list of the top 10 stories that preoccupied its users could be considered indicative of our concerns. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, perhaps, that mega sporting events dominate the list, along with the made-by-and-for-the-internet memes like the ice bucket challenge. The FIFA World Cup lives up to its billing as the world’s most popular sporting competition, beating the Super Bowl and the Sochi Winter Olympics for the top honours. But it transpires that the average Facebooker also cares about Gaza and Ebola. Goings-on in Brazil seem of interest, with its long-running telenovela of a presidential election mesmerising users. Facebook users appear to have grieved en masse at Robin Williams’s death, while Michael Brown’s killing and the subsequent conversation on race relations in America exposed a raw nerve.
The company claims that posts “were analysed in an aggregated, anonymised way” to come up with the results, but the US-centricism of even the global list shouldn’t come as a surprise. There is little overlap with the India-only version of the list — where, as might be expected, the topics at the virtual watercooler reflected national obsessions with cricket, politics and Bollywood. So, the snapshot of the world’s preferences should be looked at as just that — an (Instagrammed) image that recaps highlights that the more vociferous deemed significant.
Not that that’s any different from what Facebook’s one-billion-plus users routinely do. We choose the best images of ourselves that we want to share with our world, crop out the blemishes and filter it through a flattering light before uploading. In the end, Facebook’s list is just as much about how Facebook wants to be seen by its users as it is about them.