Where Did All My Facebook Friends’ Updates Go?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 13 2012 3:54 PM

Where Did All My Facebook Friends’ Updates Go?

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Where have people's newsfeeds gotten so insular?

SAEED KHAN

A few days ago, I posted a complaint to Facebook, noting that in recent weeks, my newsfeed has gone from featuring updates from a wide range of close friends, acquaintances, pages, and the like to a small, lethargic, and often dated group of posts from a few select pals and, mostly, myself. (And this is just on my laptop; the iPhone app almost completely turns me into Narcissus.) Admittedly, I am not the most adept Facebook user—I generally glance at it quickly to scan the lives of as many people as possible (hence my consternation)—so I assumed I had inadvertently selected some kind of filter. However, the 20 likes and multiple comments I received on the post within an hour proved that I was not alone.

One coupled friend reported: “Last night, my first five updates were all [my boyfriend’s] posts from election night, two days prior. I do care a great deal about what he says, but generally only at the time he's saying it (and it's nice to hear others once in a while, too).” Another’s post selection was even less diverse: “Half my newsfeed a few days ago were MY posts! I was like, I don't look at FB's newsfeed to look up my posts, you stupid thing.”

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Stupid thing, indeed. When did the site meant to connect us to the outer reaches of our social circle decide that we really only need to keep in touch with a few people? Tech reporters who have looked into the matter fault Edgerank, an algorithm Facebook uses to decide which posts you’ll find most relevant, based on metrics like the amount of engagement a post is getting from other users and the strength of your relationship ties. But what was designed as a way of filtering desired content from noise seems to have overstepped its purpose, at least for those of us who enjoy the serendipity of seeing a distant childhood friend’s vacation photo every once in a while.

And if its actions yesterday are any indication, Facebook doesn’t seem keen on doing anything about the problem. Yesterday, the Internet was briefly abuzz with news of a hidden Facebook link called “all-feed” that would display your newsfeed under a less restrictive version of the algorithm. TechCrunch estimated that “all-feed” could release up to 85 percent more content. But just as news of this work-around was spreading, Facebook reportedly shut down the link. Social media, it seems, are in danger of becoming as insular as our real lives.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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