Sunday, July 3, 2016

Facebook ‘lists’ override algorithm

Cynthia M. Parkhill's 'Bitstrips' cartoon avatar stands looking at the screen of a hand-held device
Cartoon image created with Bitstrips

I’ve been interested for awhile in sharing my thoughts about the Facebook “Echo Chamber,” the tendency for Facebook to more-often display things that readers’ friends “liked” or shared, or posts that are similar to those that the reader has already engaged with.

I want to promote actively shaping what you encounter in your Facebook timeline, instead of simply passively accepting whatever Facebook shows to you.

On June 30, 2016, the administrator of a page I subscribe to on Facebook, explained in a self-described “long but important post,” that its page and others were being asked for money “just so their fans can see the posts we make.” The administrator asked subscribers to “like” and open links that are shared by that page to help it continue being seen without having to purchase that exposure.

The administrator also posted a link to an article on WIRED, indicating that “Your Facebook Echo Chamber Just Got a Whole Lot Louder.”

It’s certainly true, as the page administrator said, “Interactions are what drive exposure on Facebook,” and that “likes,” leaving comments and clicking on shared links are all helpful actions. But it’s also important to discuss ways that consumers can control what they’re exposed to on Facebook, and even to emphasize that YES, WE CAN, be active, not passive, consumers.

The “Echo Chamber” effect, described in the WIRED article, makes it all the more important that we take an active role in shaping and broadening the scope of posts that Facebook “allows” us to view.

How many users on Facebook are familiar with creating interest lists? They’re a great way to reclaim control from the Facebook algorithm.

To accompany my work for the Religious Explorations program of my Unitarian Universalist church, I curate posts related to UU parenting for the program’s online community. I can’t rely on relevant posts to show up organically in my timeline, so to offset this limitation, I build lists of Facebook pages around topics of specific interest and I save browser-bookmarks to easily access those lists.

The applications are numerous. Do you chiefly consume media with a certain political bent, but want to ensure that you are exposed to broader political perspectives? Or perhaps you want to focus on happenings in a specific community. For each instance, why not set up a list?

During any given visit, my timeline may reflect Facebook’s algorithmically-defined priorities, or even content by entities that have purchased exposure based upon reader demographics. My bookmarked lists let me filter Facebook activity to bring up accounts that I, not Facebook, have selected.

What are other ways that readers can assert control and shape what they’re exposed to on Facebook? I invite you to share your tips and suggestions in the comments and may compile them in a further post.

Update, Jan. 20, 2018: ‘See First,’ an intermittent option

When I originally wrote this post, I invited readers to share tips and suggestions for controlling what they’re exposed to on Facebook. A suggestion this week, posted by “On Q” to the KQED blog, recommends that to make sure that you’re exposed to posts from KQED’s Facebook page, you need to select “See First” under the “Following” button at the top of that page.

I’ve utilized this option with some of the accounts I’m following and noticed that it seems to work intermittently. Sometimes Facebook will show me posts “first” from the pages I’ve selected this way, along with a disclaimer that I’ve opted to see these pages first. Other times, I’m simply exposed to whatever seems most popular at the time. So, yes, “See First” is a possible option; it just doesn’t always seem to work. If I can, I will try to isolate the factors that control whether “See First” works or not. For example, does it only work when these accounts have posted new content? If so, how “new” does the content have to be?

Relevant reading:

Social Media Week: Facebook Updated Its Algorithm to Prioritize Friends and Family Over Pages and Publishers
WIRED: Your Facebook Echo Chamber Just Got a Whole Lot Louder
Facebook Help Center: How do I create my own interest list?

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