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What's Wrong With Facebook


I was reading a blog post today Why Twitter Represents Everything Wrong With America Today and, if you're a Twitter user I commend it to you as it's very good. However he makes some points about Facebook which I think are worth highlighting for Facebook users.

Here's the section I was particularly struck by:

If you're not familiar with how Facebook posts work – and a lot of you are not – Facebook itself decides what posts you see, based on an internal algorithm that scans each post and determines what's important. What's resting at the top of your feed might have been posted three days ago – but it got a lot of comments, or it has buzzwords like "new baby," or it's got advertising dollars behind it.

And those algorithms are:

Frequently wrong. I stopped adding friends on Facebook after the third – the fucking third! – time there was a death in a friend's family, and Facebook's algorithm decided it wasn't important. And my friends, who were consumed by the death of their mother and/or husband, naturally assumed that I knew because I was their friend on Facebook. Which led to multitudes of awkward conversations when I met them in person and I said, brightly, "How ya doing?" and they went, "Well, it's been hard," and I asked, "Why? What happened?"

Subtly Biased. Hey. Are you liberal? Well, you're gonna be more liberal on Facebook, because that algorithm is going to pick up on what you like, and it's going to deposit more liberal news posts in your feed, and you'll come to believe that the world is way more liberal than it is because Facebook is quietly sanitizing what you want to see.

Smothering Stories of Genuine Interest. Ferguson1 became a national news story not because any news outlet wanted to pick up on it – they ignored it. But people on Twitter kept posting about it, and because Twitter posts show up in chronological order, if you arrived soon after someone posted on Ferguson, you saw every post. Eventually, enough people chained up interest that CNN and FOX news were forced to cover it. Whereas on Facebook, which decided for you what you'd like, Ferguson waited for weeks before it started to be marked as "of interest," and even then it only showed it to you if it decided you wanted to know.

I don't know about you but some of that rings some bells with me. I've had examples of the first, Frequently wrong. Not as bad as deaths but of people assuming I know about something: "didn't you see it on Facebook?".

This business of an incomplete feed drives me nuts though. For example I manage a Facebook page for Milton News and, reluctantly because someone was asking for it, I've started posting news from Milton News to that page.

The problem is that the reach of articles posted there varies like crazy. To show you what I mean that page currently has 166 people liking it. The last five posts have been seen, respectively, by: 109, 12, 146, 82 and 14 people2. That means a lot of people who like the page aren't seeing all the posts about their village and that's often news they really should be reading and will be pissed off when they discover later that they missed it.

The second, Subtly Biased, happens to me all the time. Facebook has decide I'm voting Labour now (unsurprisingly) so my feed is full, and I do mean full of Labour posts. I really am going to have to spend some time trying to convince Facebook to throttle it back.

The third, Smothering Stories of Genuine Interest - I'm sure it's happening but the nature of it means it's harder to cite examples.

But all in all it sucks. I much prefer Twitter and I try to read every post in my Twitter feed which is, for now at least until they break it, every public post made by every person I follow in chronological order. That seems right to me: it's up to me to decide what I read, not Twitter, not Facebook.

  1. He's referring to the Ferguson unrest, not such a big thing over here as it was largely a domestic US issue but there's similar stories this side of the pond.
  2. This is why I don't really recommend it as a way of reading Milton News, although people do seem to like doing it that way rather than getting the twice weekly (on average) email or following @MiltonNews on Twitter.

Tags: internet Written 09/02/16

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