Thursday, July 03, 2014

freezing facebook

After what I’ve learned this week about manipulation of timelines by facebook, I‘ve decided to freeze my facebook account. This means I will not close it, to make sure my sign-off post explaining the reasons remains visible and people can find the links to my pages on other social sites, but I’ve blocked twitter from forwarding my tweets, so there should be nothing new coming in.

It’s not mainly the fact that the research they carried out on “emotional contagion” was unethical because there was no informed consent, although this was certainly unacceptable. Personally I would have been unlikely to be hit by facebook's mood manipulation, as I rarely check the timeline. It's worrying to think what other uses the site might find for similar "experiments".

What affects me more and makes it pointless for me to share things on facebook are the routine manipulations that were revealed in the wake of the fiasco. From this story I’ve learned why my tweets forwarded to facebook no longer got any reactions: As I didn’t use facebook directly very often, so didn’t put many likes and responses on people’s posts and don’t interact much, I was accorded low priority in people’s timelines, so they were less likely to see my stuff unless they specifically visited my own page (and for those who are ready to put in this extra effort, I’d rather they visit my blog on blogspot).

Which is a vicious circle, really. If you’re not so popular on Facebook, the algorithm will make you even less so by de-prioritising your content in other people’s streams. This is a turbo-charged popularity contest, worse than anything happening in real life.

For regular updates, follow this blog, my twitter, and/or my tumblr - further links are under "VISIT MY" in the margin (underneath the green astrobiology cover).

Quote from one of the explanatory pieces in the Guardian:

How many stories is Facebook filtering out, and how? Backstrom explained in August that Facebook's news feed algorithm boils down the 1,500 posts that could be shown a day in the average news feed into around 300 that it "prioritises". How does this algorithm work? Backstrom explained that factors include: how often you interact with a friend, page or public figure; how many likes, shares and comments individual posts have received; how much you have interacted with that kind of post in the past; and whether it’s being hidden and/or reported a lot.
PS: I missed Eli Pariser's book The Filter Bubble when it came out - that would have warned me. A discussion of the Facebook newsfeed in relation to the filter bubble theory is here.

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