Facebook’s algorithm has been in the news lately as congress has been investigating it for “stoking division” in order to boost profits. Facebook’s algorithm is utter crap, but not for the reasons people talk about in the news.
I remember the feeling I got when Facebook turned on their algorithmic news feed 12+ years ago. It was a feeling of utter dread. I was and still am socially awkward in-person, and social media allowed other people to interact with me without having to endure my nasally voice, bad posture, and inability to look them in the eyes. But immediately, when Facebook introduced its algorithmic news feed, I was cut off from the world. Facebook started showing people feeds of things they cared about, and it was immediately clear that people just didn’t care about me. My social interactions on Facebook went down to nearly zero on day one… and I was frankly terrified.
And now, 12+ years later, after all it’s refinements, Facebook’s algorithm is so stingy that I cannot even find my own post on my own wall… posted last night. I guess Facebook has decided that I don’t want to see my own post because it is too negative? I don’t know. I simply posted a picture of a rainbow and captioned it with a story about a gloomy memory from exactly 10 years ago with a short plea that we all learn to be better people and be better to each other. On that night 10 years ago, I watched my best friend, who suffers from a number of personality disorders, including “High Conflict Personality”, exhibit some sketchy, impulsive behavior, incite an argument, and ultimately a physical altercation that resulted in her being tossed down a hill by her boyfriend to meet concrete at the bottom, causing her a pretty severe head injury
Based on the interactions that my friends have had with this post, it was probably seen by exactly no one. But you know… cat videos… sure they want to see cat videos!
Social Media, contrary to what you might think, is not at all about bringing people together nor connecting with people… it’s about selling ads. And the companies in charge of social media sell ads by showing you things you want to see, not showing you what’s important to you.
Facebook presumably uses AI algorithms and “sentiment analysis” to determine the subject matter of everything you post. If Facebook detects negativity in your post, they will hide it from your friends, assuming that your friends are only interested in positive messages. If you don’t believe me… try it out for yourself.
If your friends are Trump supporters, you’ll probably be fed a bunch of crap some idiots found on 4chan or the like. If your friends are social justice warriors, you’ll probably find some liberal messaging composed of some smug, alarmist crap. For the most part, Facebook has determined that your friends don’t actually care about your problems, so when you’re having a bad day, Facebook has basically decided to hide these sentiments from your friends in favor of showing you the same, repeated, viral cat video over and over.
But the Facebook algorithm is not exactly world class either. It is a stupid AI. When I worked in a Control Data spinoff, we called it “Artificial Stupidity”. I never understood why Facebook seemed to recommend Howard Stern and Sammy Hagar videos to me all day long, despite my repeated clicks to hide them from my news feed. I fucking hate Sammy Hagar even more than I hate Howard Stern, but it seemed to push them on me for months. Now it recommends Call of Duty streams (I don’t play CoD) and some streams of people playing dumb games where they just drive a tractor and plow fields, or drive busses on steep mountain passes… none of this is anything close to what I like to see, so maybe they’re showing me things that other people like to see? I really don’t know.
There are millions of videos posted on the internet every day…. why do I keep seeing the same stupid videos? Where are the things I care about and the people I care about? Why doesn’t Facebook encourage us to come together?
If I were Facebook… I’d just cut out the algorithm entirely. Sure, this means that you’ll see news from which ever friends talk the most… but the people who talk the most are probably the friends most-likely in need of help… and maybe we should do better for each other. Facebook isn’t your therapist, but in reality, it isn’t your social club either. It is just the uninvited friend of a friend who shows up to your game night to sell you Mary Kay products and/or Amway.