- A Facebook algorithm change has annoyed some users because it repetitively pushes the same post to the top of the newsfeed as long as friends comment on it.
- We decided to experiment with it, and try to force an outdated video up the newsfeed even though the news was already outdated by making our friends comment on it.
- The experiment was a success, which implies that Facebook has a long way to go when trying to add meaningful content.
After Facebook decided to bear with a drop in advertising revenue to focus on what they call “meaningful engagement”, a few changes happened on Facebook.
And as usual, some of these updates are made with the delicacy of blunt force trauma.
For one, Facebook deployed an update that will push posts to the top of your newsfeed as long as your friends comment on it. The change is an attempt to try and fish for more “meaningful engagement”, or at the very least show us what our friends are doing on Facebook.
The sentiment behind it is almost sweet, but the result is that the same post can appear at the top of your newsfeed for days and weeks on end, if enough of your friends keep commenting on it. If you were indifferent to the post before, then this exposure therapy could lead to downright resentment.
So we thought we could play with it for a little bit, based on this article by Buzzfeed.
If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the below post
Hypothesis: Friends would be super annoyed by this same post appearing on top.
Experimental Procedure: Keep “meaningful conversations” on that same post for a week to see if the post keeps shooting up.
And I asked the group in the office to send me a screenshot every time that video appeared at the top of their newsfeeds. They didn’t necessarily indulge my request, but they did at least verbally tell me when they saw the video reemerge on the top of their newsfeeds.
And it did.
The first couple of days we did it, I compelled a couple of people in the office to comment on the post. Since we’re all Facebook buddies, it kept appearing at the top of newsfeeds—even for the office peeps who didn’t know what was going on.
After we clued them in, they sent in their own screenshots.
And it continued long after the news became obsolete.
The video even got some wild comments along the way.
There were anomalies.
After the fourth day or so, I finally branched out of the office crowd and started asking my real-life friends (what few I have of them *sad emoji*) to comment on the video too.
Interestingly, a colleague who had many of the same mutual friends pointed out that the post didn’t appear on the top of her newsfeed after many of them commented.
Since the Buzzfeed article went up, Facebook probably changed the algorithm to prevent posts from staying at the top of your newsfeed too frequently, so at the very least there’s an algorithm update.
Another colleague also said that one week down the road, the post started appearing second to another post on my wall that happened to spark conversations, so time of posting might also impact how high it appears in your newsfeed.
Alright. So why should I care?
Facebook certainly has some noble aspirations towards meaningful content, but so far what that means is that they prioritise a post gets a lot of comments—even if it isn’t necessarily positive or particularly meaningful.
An inappropriate post with tonnes of hateful comments would still shoot up in your newsfeed, so publications and video producers now feeling the burn of deprioritising might just resort to clickbait controversial posts to remain relevant in today’s newsfeed.
Or a banal post where a group of friends are constantly commenting and keeping up a conversation we don’t really care about could keep going up.
That doesn’t seem very meaningful.
In the end, an algorithm really can’t replace actual human sentiment and understanding in order to propagate actual meaningful content and connections between friends and family.
And as the internet has proven time and time again, comments can still be empty of sentiment.