Social media shenanigans – Doing the dirty on users

Controversy is the name of the game – It’s social media madness 

The community website Reddit has revealed its plans to actively advertise to its 114 million members for the first time, in a move many feel will alienate users.
At the same time Facebook’s timeline management seems to have gone totally mental, or at least mine has. And it turns out your friends and family are not in control of what you see on your Facebook timeline, nor are you.
It looks like social networks are at it again…

Facebook timeline goes crazy

On Facebook yesterday I noticed something new. If I navigate away from my timeline then pop back again, the order of the posts changes. Hm.
While it doesn’t sound very dramatic, it’s incredibly annoying. I visit once and see something I like, but I can’t find it the next time or the time after. Where’s it gone? And where’s that handy button that let you either view things in date order or put the most popular posts first?
Further investigation revealed a more sinister side to the Facebook news feed, one that plenty of users find downright upsetting and that I had no idea existed. So what’s the story?

Facebook’s algorithm dictates the content you see

Naively, I thought I saw everything my connections posted on Facebook. Silly me. As it turns out, we are not in control of what we see on our news feeds, nor are our contacts.
Who decides what you see and what you miss out on? It’s an algorithm. The algorithm curates your news feed automatically. And a recent study reveals 62% of us have no idea it’s happening. According to a report in last week’s New Scientist magazine:

“People were shocked that they weren’t seeing everything their network posted. In cases where posts of close friends or family were excluded, many became upset.”

“Upset”? Too right. What gives Facebook the right to decide which of my friends’ and family’s updates I see and which I don’t?
There I was, thinking some of my friends and family had ‘gone quiet’ on Facebook. It happens. I do it myself. Sometimes I feel sociable, other times I don’t. I wonder what the people Facebook has neglected on my behalf think about me? That I don’t care/am not interested in them/have fallen off the edge of the known universe?

Independent research reveals how Facebook’s news feed algorithm works

Researchers at the universities of Illinois and Michigan have been trying to establish how the Facebook news feed algorithm works, and they’re slowly uncovering clues. Carrying out a collaborative audit of thousands of people’s Facebook experiences, they’re attempting to work out the underlying algorithmic rules through an app called FeedVis.
They’ve discovered that if you comment on someone’s wall you’re more likely to see a post from them than if you simply ‘like’ something. And if you visit someone’s timeline you’re more likely to see content from them later. But because the social medium’s algorithms are in a constant state of flux as well as ‘black box’ opaque, drawing firm conclusions is a challenge.
As Christo Wilson from Northeast University in Boston says, “In the history of mass media, there have been channels with a huge reach, but it’s typically a human in the apex of the control loop. That’s just not true any more.” 
I want to be able to see everything my Facebook contacts post. After all, that is precisely why I connected with them in the first place.
As it is, Facebook has completely lost my respect and trust. If there was an alternative I would jump ship straight away. But my friends and family are all on there and if I leave, I lose contact. Short of a mass exodus, I’m stuffed.

How can you beat the system?

Luckily the research does deliver a couple of simple clues about how to force Facebook’s algorithm to show you the content you’ve been missing out on. If you visit people’s timelines it should help, as should commenting on their status updates. But the point is this: why should we have to go to such lengths just to get the service we signed up for in the first place?

Twitter tests adding non-followers’ tweets to your timeline

As if Facebook’s antics aren’t enough, my favourite social network – Twitter – is engaging in mischief too.
Apparently they’re testing showing users Tweets from accounts followed by their contacts, but who they don’t follow themselves. As the NextWeb website says, “Following an account on a social network is a contract. You’re allowing that person’s tweets and retweets to enter your feed. You’re not expecting a random tweet to appear that wasn’t retweeted by that person.”
Quite. I hope they nip this bugger in the bud and leave us to make our own decisions about what we see and what we don’t.

What’s at the bottom of all this nonsense?

It’s usually down to money. It isn’t easy to monetise social networks. But there must be a better way to generate cash than advertising at us whether we want it or not, messing with the user experience and doing dirty deeds behind the scenes. How about the simplest possible way to make money: charging people to use the service?
Here’s what you get if you charge users just £1 a year each:

  • Reddit – 114 million users – £114 million per year
  • Twitter – 255 million active users – £255 million per year
  • Facebook – 1.317 billion monthly active users – £1.317 billion per year

Call me old fashioned, but isn’t that quite enough money to satisfy even the greediest, fattest, least socially responsible corporate organisation?

In an ideal world…

In the ‘real’ world we can opt out of B2C direct mail and telesales calls through the MPS and TPS. In an ideal online world, social media users would be able to opt out of advertising. And we should also be able to opt out of other so-called innovations being tested behind the scenes by marketers and developers.

What do you think?

Am I being overly-sensitive? Take your marketing hat off for a moment and see how these developments feel from a user’s perspective. What do you think??

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