Wulf's Webden

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Overloading algorithms


A while ago – in fact on several whiles ago – a rumour has circulated round Facebook claiming that its algorithm only shows you updates from a select group of your contacts. However (allegedly) you can thwart that by copying and pasting a bit of text into your feed. I’m not convinced and I haven’t done it but I wanted to ponder the idea a bit more.

I’ve presently got 525 friends on Facebook. I’d put a little hello in here but a change a few months ago broke the chain that fed Facebook from Twitter, in turn fed from this blog. I might revisit that sometime. However, it is true that I can’t remember the last time I saw material from some of those people on my news feed. Furthermore, after a bit of random sampling, some of those accounts are still active (my initial theory was that I was missing people who had just given up posting on the platform). Is there an algorithmic conspiracy against me?

I suspect the truth is simply that there is too much going on. You could have an algorithm that actively attempts to make sure you see a little bit from everyone. However, like many, I have Facebook ‘friends’ who I barely know – perhaps even some I don’t actually know at all. I’m certainly well beyond Dunbar’s number. If I saw a fair balance of updates from those people, it would squeeze out contributions from those I’m closer too. I’d probably be inclined to do a lot more trimming of the list and Facebook would become a very different type of platform.

My guess is that the algorithms at play seek to prioritise people you’ve interacted with and perhaps with whom you seem to share current interests in common, with a smattering of random interaction on top. If you copy and paste the ‘algorithm’ meme, that links you with other people who have done the same, meaning you now share commonality with a different pool of people and thus the names that commonly float to the top of the list generated for you change.

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