Facebook Likes are a cornerstone of what Facebook is able to sell and how they make a profit. Facebook Likes are instrumental to Facebook in collecting information about you and what you do on-line that Facebook is then able to sell to its major advertisers. In fact you do not even need to be logged into Facebook or actually even click a Like button, but more on that in a future post. This post is just how clicking the Facebook Like buttons can change what you see in your feed and perhaps even more importantly how it changes what appears in the feeds of your Facebook friends. Not in technical terms of how it works, but in an actual real world experiment that shows the very messy results.
Recently, technology journalist Mat Honan in Wired decided to see what would happen if he liked everything that he was presented with on Facebook. Here is part of how he describes it;
I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. I know this sounds like a stunt (and it was) but it was also genuinely just an open-ended experiment. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up (48 hours was all I could stand) or what I’d learn (possibly nothing.)
See, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what shows up in your feed. It isn’t just a parade of sequential updates from your friends and the things you’ve expressed an interest in. In 2014 the News Feed is a highly-curated presentation, delivered to you by a complicated formula based on the actions you take on the site, and across the web (emphasis added). I wanted to see how my Facebook experience would change if I constantly rewarded the robots making these decisions for me, if I continually said, “good job, robot, I like this.” I also decided I’d only do this on Facebook itself—trying to hit every Like button I came across on the open web would just be too daunting. But even when I kept the experiment to the site itself, the results were dramatic.
By the end of day one, I noticed that on mobile, my feed was almost completely devoid of human content (emphasis added). I was only presented with the chance to like stories from various websites, and various other ads. Yet on the desktop—while it’s still mostly branded content—I continue to see things from my friends. On that little bitty screen, where real-estate is so valuable, Facebook’s robots decided that the way to keep my attention is by hiding the people and only showing me the stuff that other machines have pumped out (emphasis added).
While I expected that what I saw might change, what I never expected was the impact my behavior would have on my friends’ feeds (emphasis added). I kept thinking Facebook would rate-limit me, but instead it grew increasingly ravenous. My feed become a cavalcade of brands and politics and as I interacted with them, Facebook dutifully reported this to all my friends and followers.
My take away from Mat Honan’s real world experiments is to beware clicking Like buttons if you want to keep your Facebook presence more about communication and networking and less about Facebook’s apparent new mission of highly monetizing you and your friends. Please visit the links above to read the full story, there is much more there including comments from Mat’s followers during his experiment.