If you’ve been on Facebook for any length of time lately, you’ve no doubt noticed how the newsfeed is changing. You’ve noticed how inundated the social media site now is with so many ads, links, suggested stories, weird videos, and lures that it makes one’s head spin.
And you’ve noticed that if you leave Facebook to go to the Vineyard Vines website and hunt down a bowtie, as soon as you return to Facebook, there’s an ad for the very tie you put in your shopping cart!
So you’re wondering how the algorithm works, why you’re being so hemmed in, and why your likes seem to be bringing up a whole lot of other stuff Facebook believes you’re going to like just as much.
Well, if you’ve been noticing and wondering … and having some offbeat thoughts about Facebook, you’re not the only one.
That’s why you have to read about a great little prankish experiment masterminded by Wired’s Mat Honan.
So, what did Honan dream up?
According to the recap by Max Willens in AdAge, “Mr. Honan decided he would “like” everything that came through his Facebook News Feed for 48 hours, aside from a couple very specific exceptions such as messages about death. Even though he liked both friends’ personal posts and brands’ messages, the results, he writes, were strikingly one-sided.”
Honan was amazed at how quickly his newsfeed morphed into a whole different world:
“My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time,” Honan recounts. “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.”
And here comes that advertising-linkage thing Facebook is working for all it’s worth.
“Likewise, content mills rose to the top,” says Honan. “Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com.”
The brand takeover was less blatant on Honan’s desktop than on his mobile phone Facebook feed:
“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. Weird.”
Neither Honan nor the rest of us quite understands how any of this is going to help anybody.
“Maybe only a handful of its users really respond to ads, or to content created by outlets like HuffPo and Buzzworthy, and they want to foist as much of that stuff onto those people as possible,” says Willens. “Maybe the biggest likers among us are the most suggestible, and Facebook is happy to take advantage. Or maybe its algorithm just wasn’t built to handle a stunt like this one.”
Liking is a dangerous thing to do, obviously. But we’d like you to read the whole story. Check it out here.