What the Tech: Facebook Algorithm

What the Tech

Facebook is not having a great week. Late last week reports emerged that the social media giant intentionally pushed content to the top of its users’ timelines that made drew angry or emotional responses.

On Sunday, the whistleblower who made the allegations came forward. On Monday, Facebook and all of its properties were out of service for more than 6 hours. And on Tuesday, the whistleblower testified before a congressional subcommittee stating her claims.

When Facebook first introduced the emotion responses that users can leave on comments and posts, it made it clear that the responses carried more weight when it came to the Facebook algorithm which decides what type of posts appear in your timeline or newsfeed.

“Liking” a post isn’t as strong as the “Angry” response or emoji.

“What Facebook is doing is it’s putting content in front of us, at the top of our timeline, that will
get the most reaction. It is content that gets the most engagement in comments, shares, and
likes,” said University of Florida professor of social media Dr. Andrew Selepak.

When a friend shares that type of content, it often is placed nearer to the top of your feed so you
are more likely to see it.

“It’s going to be the most sensational news stories. It’s going to be the most over-the-top posts,”
said Selepak. “Facebook encourages this because it keeps people engaged. It keeps people on
the platform.”

Selepak says the recent reports or revelations is a “peek behind the curtain” into Facebook’s
algorithm and that it shows us that some of our suspicions are correct.

“It feeds us negative content to get us to react negatively,” he said. “Facebook has realized that
to a large extent, we want this experience. We sort of crave this experience and we keep coming back to it for that same type of content. To be riled up.”

You probably saw some of this during the last election cycle. Facebook knows which side you’re
on politically based on posts you like and friends you interact with. So Facebook feeds you more
of that content.

“And this sort of self-perpetuating machine of anger is not going to be healthy for an individual and not going to be healthy for a society that’s based on reason and reasonable arguments and compromise across the political aisle,” Selepak said.

Facebook’s algorithm is not likely to change much, if at all. But Selepak said you can change your own algorithm on the platform by not responding with the angry emoji and not re-sharing negative or angry posts and content.

“Will it happen overnight? No. Will it happen dramatically? No. But there will start to be a
change because at the end of the day what Facebook wants more than anything else is for you
to spend more time on the platform. For you to see ad after ad after ad. And what it’s going to
give you is content that will keep you on there,” Selepak said.

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