Today seemed like the perfect day to post an article about the former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. A New York Times article detailing the millions of dollars he gave out in settlements to women alleging O’Reilly of sexual misconduct and maleficence came out a few short weeks ago, drawing feverish backlash from the social media world, media ethics organizations, and advertisers.
Together, they combined to create a persuasive argument against O’Reilly, whose alleged misconduct streamlines back to the early 2000’s and repeats over and over again.
O’Reilly has long been noted for his agitation toward left-leaning ideologues and policies as well as his occasional, but notable, combative tone used against guests. On air, O’Reilly commanded the conversation, often interjecting and cutting off guests whom he disagreed with. To many opposing his viewpoints, O’Reilly’s show didn’t present an opportunity for constructive conversation. Rather, the discussion often became fraught with O’Reilly’ s characteristically argumentative rebuttal.
Now, after 20 years of TV time and a show that garnered more viewers than any of its competitors, the show will terminate immediately. The intense pressure from advertisers – almost 50 of them pulling their ads off of O’Reilly’s show – combined with mounting evidence of continued sexual misconduct were too strong for the Fox News empire to overcome. It had been reported that in the past few weeks, upper-level executives had been hoping that this negative press would subside. But in the end, the company felt that keeping O’Reilly didn’t out way keeping him around.
So today, I wanted to post about this. It felt important. It felt timely. Bill O’Reilly getting the can? His release represented a win for many factions of people. Those who detest sexual predators anywhere near or in the workplace won. Liberal media outlets with a strong distaste for the Fox News style won. If you didn’t like O’Reilly, you won.
The hope that many people would react, comment, or share my post bounced around in my head before anything transpired. My social media feed is filled with a plethora of voices, friends and acquaintances from across the isle, I thought. At the very least, I would get a response or two saying that my thoughts on this were justified, or my rejoice in his firing was deserved. It appeared to me that this was a good topic to knock down my ideological wall with and show my cards.
No one responded.
The article I posted was the initial NYT reporting, presumably one of the first media organizations to have something out there. A trustworthy source, no matter whether you lean left or right. Yet, the response on my feed was disappointing. A little more than 20 people actually liked the post even though hundred of people saw it. Additionally, only two of my friends provided commentary. One said “Good Riddance” and the other, who leans more conservative, happened to agree that O’Reilly’s release was a good thing.
Did I overestimate the amount of diversity in my online world?
After a few hours of needless checking and re-checking, the likes and comments fizzled out. What I was left with was a staggeringly weak pool of comments and interactions. All of those who chose to add their voice to the conversation did so in affirmation of my liberal beliefs. Even the one conservative fellow was on my side.
This was supposed to be a tumultuous occurrence. People were supposed to argue with each other. My Facebook was supposed to light up in blue and red paint, with lines drawn firmly in the ground and the two opposing sides squaring off in political theater. It was supposed to be marvelous, until it wasn’t. I blame this on myself and my smaller-than-previous-thought bubble of like-minded friends and strangers existing in my virtual world. I blame my high expectations too, but mostly the bubble I occupy. In it, I now realize I’m far less enriched with different political perspectives. My ability to engage in debate with my liberal friends pails in grandeur and intensity to the debates I would have if I had more conservative friends. What this proved to me is that ideological lines are hard to break, in person and online. And in the hyper-polarized world of embattled, two-sided, divided avenues of thought, it will only get harder.
Social media algorithms dictate more and more of what appears in front of us, thereby enforcing the deep lines of our politics. Facebook, in a way, knows what I want to see and who I want to see posting. It computes a pragmatic guesstimation of what will appeal to me, knowing that prior visits to news outlets and blog posts would implicate me as the left-leaner I am, even if I don’t wish to have that be my only reality.
To break on through to the otherside, Facebook and social media as a whole shouldn’t let me get in the way. In return for my time spent on WashPo, I should be directed to an article on The National Review. For every article read on MotherJones, I should be reading the work of someone writing for The Weekly Standard. It is admittedly difficult to come up with these places off the top of my head. For myself and other snowflakes, a well-respected conservative publication is as rare as a Bill O’Reilly apology.
Guess that’s what I guess I get for living in the bubble.