An Algorithm for Disaster?

Over the past few years, Facebook has rapidly become one of the largest news platforms in the media. With over a billion people getting their news from Facebook each day, the content that goes in to the algorithm is becoming a more complicated issue. So how exactly does the Facebook algorithm work? According to socialmediatoday, Facebook’s VP of News Feed, Adam Mosseri explains it by comparing it to the every day decision making process of deciding what you want for lunch. You consider the menu (inventory), the time of day (signal), if you would enjoy the food item you are leaning towards (prediction) and then place the order (score). This is very similar to how Facebook decides what content appears on your news feed. The algorithm takes in to account what stories have been posted by your friends (inventory), who posted the story (signal), how likely you are to comment on the post (prediction) which leads to the relevance of the post (score), according to socialmediatoday. This score of relevance is meant to produce a news feed that contains content that is most interesting to you and your friends, therefore keeping you engaged.

Although this algorithm has been very successful for Facebook and its users, there has become an edge of concern because of the impact such a narrow stream of relevance can have when it interferes with politics and social issues. After the outcome of the recent election, Mark Zuckerberg received a lot of backlash about the algorithm and how it could’ve played in to spreading misinformation. Zuckerberg posted a statement on his personal Facebook account about the ultimate motives behind Facebook and the changes they are looking to implement due to the increasing importance of this issue. He states that in the past, Facebook has relied on its users and third parties to report false information and spam, which penalizes the content making it appear less frequently. But due to the mass amounts of misinformation and spam that is being spread, it is much harder to keep up with what is fake and what is real. Due to this increase, they are trying to reduce misinformation while still allowing their users to have a voice and not feel discouraged from sharing opinions and content.

In an effort to work on these issues, Zuckerberg states that they are working with third parties and updating technology for stronger detection of misinformation before it even reaches the viewer.

Mark Zuckerberg
Image courtesy of Flickr user Alessio Jacona

They are also introducing the idea of “Topics”, which will allow users to subscribe to Topics, like politics, that will allow them to interact with posts, but will also expose them to ideas that may counter their own beliefs and views, according to wallaroomedia. This would ultimately eliminate some of the danger of the algorithm bubble that currently only produces content  which reinforces the viewer’s beliefs, lacking content with opposing ideas and views.

According to socialmediatoday, Facebook is ultimately moving towards implementing three new ideals in to the content produced and circulating through their platform: Discovery, Integrity and Partnerships.

Mosseri explains that Facebook is trying to expand news feed options with a Discovery tab that users can click on and see content that is produced outside of their personal news feed and centered on broader topics. With Integrity, they are making it easier for users to report false content and are working with various news platforms to increase the frequency and accuracy of both local and national news, according to socialmediatoday. By working towards these changes, Facebook is making a strong effort to purify their site ‘s news content, while still encouraging users to express their opinion and create personalized content.

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