The Changing Algorithm of Facebook

“Stay away from a fool,
for you will not find knowledge on their lips.

 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
but the folly of fools is deception”. (Proverbs 14:7-8)

 

Facebook has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism this week. It has been revealed that analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, went digging around Facebook and used the uncovered gold dust to help the 2016 Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. It’s being reported that as many as 50 million Americans had their private facebook information accessed and used.

I don’t like data-mining; it’s intrusive, a virtual version of a garage sale, except someone is selling your information without your knowledge and permission.  I may not like it, but I do however assume that marketing companies are doing this all the time. Is it really a coincidence that after researching a vacation online, within minutes I find advertisements appearing for airlines and accommodation?

People are so incensed by Facebook’s negligence, that shares have dropped in value and people have begun closing their accounts. Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla had deleted their facebook page.

Peter Hatcher wrote for The Age,

“America’s Big Tech firms have had a free run for a long time now. The normal standards were suspended for them. The soft power of their image gave them worldwide licence to evade tax, break laws, abuse customers’ trust and exploit workers.

“The personal information of some 50 million Facebook users was misused by a political consultancy to help Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign target voters. The consultancy, now notorious, is called Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook shrugged off the scandal and stonewalled the public and the US Congress for the first five days. It responded not to its angry customers or concerned Congress members but only to its falling share price. Facebook founder and major shareholder Mark Zuckerberg decided that it was serious only after he had lost $US9 billion in personal wealth.

“So this was a major breach of trust and I’m really sorry that this happened,” were Zuckerberg’s first words in a CNN interview this week. “So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

This is nothing new. When the Obama campaign used data-mining in the 2012 campaign, it was hailed as a technological masterstroke and use of innovation.

As an another example, the Brisbane Times reported during the week that Gold Coast City had planned to use data-mining during the upcoming Commonwealth Games, but have now decided against the idea.

like-us-on-facebook-337256

 

While everyone seems to be outraged by the latest facebook scandal, in January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg made an announced that few media outlets reported or expressed concern over. In introducing algorithm changes, Zuckerberg said that Facebook would reduce certain content on peoples’ feeds, and keep traffic clear for updates from friends, liked groups, and “trusted sources” for news. 

It has since come out that “trusted sources” doesn’t mean news and information sites that we have personally follow, but which Facebook had deemed newsworthy for us.

According to the DailyWire, ”Those “trusted sources,” however, are not necessarily going to be the same pages and news sites that users follow; rather, they are sources that Facebook designates as “trusted” through what it says will be rankings produced by “a diverse and representative” sample of Facebook users (see full post below). Which sources are “trusted sources” and which are not, is unclear. Sources not deemed “trusted” — even those you choose to follow — will get buried or de-emphasized in your newsfeed.”

The effect of this has been a marked decrease of readership for many conservative sites, and an increase for numbers left leaning and “progressive” media outlets. According to one study, “The 12 most conservative sites lost an average of 27.06 percent of their traffic from Facebook”, while more liberal sites saw either significant growth in traffic from facebook or remained the same.

The point is, Facebook is skewing the type of news and information that they want users to find and read.

It appears as though it is not only major news outlets that are experiencing this negative change. Since February I have noticed a significant drop on this blog, both in terms the total number of referrals from Facebook and in the percentage of total reads that would normally result from Facebook referrals. Like any website, visitor numbers change depending on numerous factors, including the frequency of posting new material, and the ‘interest factor’. Not everything I write flies with success, but the difference has been pretty clear. Not only has the facebook readership been declining, for the first time ever, twitter referrals are out performing facebook.

I have asked other prominent Australian Christian bloggers about this, and they are noticing similar trends.


I’m not suggesting that Facebook is targeting Christians sites, but I suspect that are conflating Christianity with conservative, and the latter is certainly being affected. It is somewhat ridiculous though because Christian and conservative are not the same. This is a gross error that is often made in politics and media, and apparently also by social media. While Christians and conservatives may share some commonalities, on other issues Christians finds themselves in a very different place, because our identity and beliefs are shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not by any single political philosophy. Nevertheless, algorithms don’t lie!

Apparently, facebook users can take steps to partially rectify this bias. Go to and follow the steps: https://www.dailywire.com/news/26203/facebook-changing-your-newsfeed-heres-how-make-james-barrett

More importantly, let’s learn that neutrality is often alleged and is rarely true. It would be nice if platforms like Facebook and Google worked without prejudice, but this is the real world. It is perhaps too early for giving up social media, but let’s not think that the virtual world is any more impartial than the physical world.

As the Proverb says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” And perhaps we should add,’ lean not on our social media.’

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