What Happens When You Like Everything?
Journalists can be a masochistic lot.
Take Mat Honan over at Wired who decided to like everything in his Facebook News Feed:
Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked — even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me…
…Relateds quickly became a problem, because as soon as you like one, Facebook replaces it with another. So as soon as I liked the four relateds below a story, it immediately gave me four more. And then four more. And then four more. And then four more. I quickly realized I’d be stuck in a related loop for eternity if I kept this up. So I settled on a new rule: I would like the first four relateds Facebook shows me, but no more.
So how did Facebook’s algorithm respond?
My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages…
…While I expected that what I saw might change, what I never expected was the impact my behavior would have on my friends’ feeds. 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.
After 48 hours he gives up “because it was just too awful.”
Over at The Atlantic, Caleb Garling plays with Facebook’s algorithm as well. Instead of liking though, he tries to hack the system to see what he needs to do so that friends and followers see what he posts:
Part of the impetus was that Facebook had frustrated me. That morning I’d posted a story I’d written about the hunt for electric bacteria that might someday power remote sensors. After a few hours, the story had garnered just one like. I surmised that Facebook had decided that, for whatever reason, what I’d submitted to the blue ether wasn’t what people wanted, and kept it hidden.
A little grumpy at the idea, I wanted to see if I could trick Facebook into believing I’d had one of those big life updates that always hang out at the top of the feed. People tend to word those things roughly the same way and Facebook does smart things with pattern matching and sentiment analysis. Let’s see if I can fabricate some social love.
I posted: “Hey everyone, big news!! I’ve accepted a position trying to make Facebook believe this is an important post about my life! I’m so excited to begin this small experiment into how the Facebook algorithms processes language and really appreciate all of your support!”
And the likes poured in: “After 90 minutes, the post had 57 likes and 25 commenters.”
So can you game the Facebook algorithm? Not really, thinks Garling. Not while the code remains invisible.
At best, he writes, we might be able to intuit a “feeble correlation.”
Which might be something to like.