Ovi's Blog on technology and the web
Facebook algorithms and the problem with majority rule
I started using Facebook to find “friends”, people I had met in the past and wanted to keep in touch with. But the longer the list of people got, the more status updates became overwhelming as Facebook showed too much: all their Likes and interactions with other people. Then Facebook added filtering options which helped a great deal. However, more recently, Facebook started automating the filtering of posts which is really annoying because no one really knows exactly how the filters work. Supposedly, it’s based on showing more stuff from people you interact with more and less stuff from people you don’t.
While this seems to make sense, it essentially makes filtering on your own seem useless. I also really don’t think Facebook can get a perfect algorithm to automate filtering because of what it inherently implies: Facebook decides what content you should be viewing. And because Facebook has all this data and does all this creepy research on our usage habits, they think they can get it right, but they can’t. Just like Netflix is never good at recommending something I would like. The problem is that a magic algorithm can’t account for all individual tastes and habits.
It’s based on the same flaw that’s inherent in Democracy: laws are based on majority vote. So, when a law is specific enough, you end up leaving out certain individuals, taking away their rights in the process. For example, marriage. The democratic process completely singled out people that are gay. Often the best solution to this kind of problem is to make the law more inclusive which is what’s now happening with gay marriage being accepted in many states. I would argue it doesn’t go far enough though. What would make it even more inclusive would be to just not have a law for marriage what-so-ever. Why should a governing body have any say in how you show your love towards someone else?
And like democracy, Facebook’s filtering algorithms are based on rules that favor the majority of usage habits. And this singles out the people which the algorithm does not work for. The intent may be to get you to use Facebook more because of the positive responses towards posts you would enjoy. But if you don’t use Facebook like the majority of users, it has the opposite affect of appearing to be broken and frustrating which in turn would make you want to use Facebook less. And until the rules change, I guess there’s always Twitter.
Looking for someone to help you design and build your app or website? Contact me
Originally published December 2nd, 2014