Why Do I See What I See in my Facebook Feed?

  • Posted on: 28 April 2020
  • By: Michelle Brightwell

Picture this: you’re scrolling Facebook on your device and suddenly you see a news story pop up with a headline that catches your eye. The channel isn’t local to you, and you know you’ve never seen that page before. It’s possible that above the news story, Facebook has let you know that a former coworker has commented on the news story, and then Facebook shows you the comment your coworker left.

You scroll by, but you read the headline, and maybe even a little blurb and your coworker’s comment.

You scroll past a meme about alcohol consumption during social distancing. You scroll past a meme about homeschooling kids. You scroll past a scathing political meme.

Have you ever wondered why you’re seeing those things? It’s the algorithm.

What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is a step-by-step process for achieving an end. You can think of the steps for long division, or tying your shoes, as an algorithm. Computers use algorithms to complete systematic tasks. And Facebook uses algorithms to determine what it shows you in your feed.

When Facebook first debuted the news feed in 2006, it was a straight chronological feed of what your friends and whatever other pages you liked were posting.

In 2009, Facebook introduced the ‘like’ button, encouraging more interaction from users with different kinds of posts.

It later added the “dislike” button, and in 2016 it introduced “reactions”, the 6 emoji-like characters of love, haha, wow, sad, and angry.

Facebook’s official reason for including reactions is that mobile users wanted an easier way to interact with posts in their feed, and the majority of Facebook use was now on mobile devices. So they commissioned some research and distilled the entirety of human emotion into 6 emojis that they felt evoked the most common human reactions on Facebook.

I promise this is relevant.

Facebook’s product is information on its users – it sells information its users generate to ad companies and this is how Facebook creates revenue. You are its product, and every interaction you have with a post, a link, a photo generates more information which means more money. According to the 2019 study done by Pew Research Center, 69% of adults in the United States use Facebook, and 74% of those users say they log in at least once daily.

With each interaction you give to a Facebook post, Facebook logs your data and uses that data to serve you more content that it thinks you will click on. So, if you use any of the reactions to interact with a news story, Facebook will you show you more news stories that users with similar data have also interacted with.

IF you interact with funny cat videos, positive or negative, Facebook will show you more funny cat videos. But also, if a high percentage of users who interact with funny cat videos also interact with videos about goat cheese, Facebook will start showing you content about goat cheese because there’s a high probability you will also interact with it. Facebook doesn’t care if you actually like goat cheese, it just wants your click. You might actually really dislike goat cheese, but suddenly you’re seeing ads for goat cheese, videos about goat cheese, and news stories about goat cheese. Goat cheese makes you mad, so you click the “angry” reaction. Facebook will then continue to show you content about goat cheese. It just wants your clicks.

Facebook and other social media sites are an excellent way to stay connected to people that we otherwise would have lost touch with over the years. We can keep up with extended family, follow publications and news outlets (and funny cat videos!), and stay informed about what’s going on in our communities. Staying connected through digital means is as important as ever, when we’re trying to stay home and prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s as important as ever to pay attention to what we’re consuming while on social media and to not let the algorithm control the message.


More reading:

https://www.wired.com/2016/02/facebook-reactions-totally-redesigned-like-button/ the research behind the 6 reactions facebook provides is pretty interesting