How the New Facebook Algorithm Affects You, a Normal Person

When I logged onto Facebook today, I was greeted by a video of a static photo meme that a friend from high school who I haven’t spoken to in a decade commented on. Below that was a video about a donut in cannoli form that a friend from work commented on. Below that was a video about a new machine that makes it easier to tape wires down on stages, commented on by an acquaintance from college. None of these three videos were posted by pages I have elected to like or follow—they were presented to me because my Facebook friends had interacted with them. This irrelevance marks the dawn of Facebook’s new era, kicked off by an algorithm shift that privileges posts your friends have engaged with over the posts you’ve actually signed up to see.

Facebook, the world’s most popular social network, is going through a bit of an identity crisis. Most of us associate Facebook with anger, annoyance and inferiority complexes. There’s a growing sentiment among millennials that Facebook is something between a time-suck and a digital Rolodex. Between that ill will, the 2016 US election, and some really bad memes, the site has found itself between a rock and a hard place. What’s a massively influential social network to do?

Instead of taking editorial responsibility for the fake news and hysterical headlines succeeding on its platform, Facebook’s new algorithm defers that responsibility to all of us, the users. Rather than booting outlets like InfoWars off its website, Facebook has decided to just show all of us fewer posts by publishers altogether. This theoretically returns Facebook its original purpose of connecting people, but it feels more like throwing the digital baby out with the chemtrail-tainted bath water.

The good news is this new shift gives us a lot of power. Yes, you, random anonymous Facebook user. You may not work in media or run a viral meme account — unless you do, in which case please share this blog post!! — but you have a huge amount of influence over what posts, pages and websites are successful on Facebook from now on.

Make no mistake: this algorithm change will hurt the publications you love. It’s now not enough for your favorite media company to lay off their editorial teams and pivot to video in an effort to succeed online. What’s important to the algorithm now is “engagement” (i.e. likes, comments, and shares) from users like you, meaning the websites that survive on Facebook will do so through your “WOW!” reactions and tagging your friends.

Did you decide to follow Autostraddle’s page because you love reading their pop culture recaps? Do you live for your sister’s band’s Facebook page for updates on their new singles and upcoming gigs? Too bad! You might stop seeing their posts altogether, even though you told Facebook to show them to you, because the new algorithm thinks they aren’t driving enough conversation. Posts that don’t encourage a vehement reaction, especially links, are dead on arrival. This isn’t good for small, nuanced publications, and it’s not good for your sister’s band, it’s not good for me as a independent writer, and it’s not good for you. It’s only good for Facebook, because it helps them keep users on Facebook instead of clicking off the site.

But remember what I said: you have the power now. Here’s my advice as a social media editor to make sure you’re seeing the content you want on your Facebook newsfeed.

Interact aggressively with the posts of your favorite pages and people.

Write a comment, even if it’s just to say you enjoyed the post. Share videos and articles that you love and think are worth the time of your friends. Facebook’s algorithm makes the average user the ultimate endorsement, meaning you suddenly have a huge say in what brands and publications succeed. The best way to support the publications you believe in is to engage with their posts through reacting or commenting, because that’s the metric that Facebook uses to decide if that post should be shown to more people.

Choose the “See First” option for pages and people you really want to see on your feed.

This means you will see new posts by those pages and users at the top of your feed when you log in. It ensures you won’t miss a post from your best friend who isn’t online that often, and that you can get your Ezra Klein explainer videos when they’re new and still relevant. Facebook has buried the “See First” button, so it involves some extra effort, but it makes a huge difference for the pages that matter to you. Go to the page itself and select “See First” under “Following.” Tah dah! Favoritism. This is the best way to make sure you’re seeing the pages you love on your feed, but those pages will probably be too shy to ask you to mark them as “See First” because it looks thirsty. Even pages don’t want to look desperate. (Shout-out to Autostraddle who did this effectively and transparently! You can follow their directions to add pages to “See First” if I confused you.)

Hide posts you don’t like from your newsfeed.

Did a dance video your cousin commented on show up on your feed? Did Facebook suggest you might like a makeup tutorial Facebook even though you’ve never interacted with the brand or implied you like makeup? Make the effort to hide it from your feed so that the algorithm can learn you don’t want irrelevant content clogging up your Facebook experience. Give it feedback that it’s doing a bad job to clear the way for the stuff you actually use Facebook to see.

Stop liking and sharing those terrible videos that are actually just images of text or memes.

Please, do this as a favor to me, a social media person who takes time to create really great videos. These static images masquerading as videos are cheating the algorithm, which still favors video content over links and photos. Also these posts are just tacky and bad. Stop rewarding them. You look silly.

Join Facebook groups that relate to your interests.

Do you love dogs? Do you love tattoos of architecture? Do you love screaming about local politics? Find a Facebook group that caters to that specific interest. Brands and publishers are increasingly investing energy in running groups on Facebook where they can lead discussions about relevant topics and articles. These groups have been criticized for creating echo chambers on social media, and it’s true that groups devoted to anti-vaccination conspiracies and so forth are dangerous and The Worst. But when done right, these groups foster actual discussion without nastiness. I, for example, am a proud member of the Dogspotting Society. It’s exactly what it sounds like and it floods my feed with adorable puppers to bring down my blood pressure.

Sign up to receive notifications.

If you want to know absolutely everything happening on your favorite pages as soon as possible, you can also sign up to get notifications about new posts. Open up the page in your Facebook mobile app and use “Edit notification settings” under the “Following” drop-down menu. Then that page will send you up to five notifications per day about new posts, Facebook lives, events, and so on. Thanks to Solá for the tip here!

Thinking of leaving Facebook altogether? There are other ways to get your news.

Sign up for your favorite website’s email newsletter. Actually go to their homepage. Download the site’s app if they have one, or use the news app on your smart phone that aggregates articles. You have other options!

Go check out the pages already separated out into the “Pages Feed.”

You may have something called a “Pages Feed” in your Facebook sidebar under the Explore section, where you can find the posts from brands and publishers that you’ve been missing the last few months. Move whatever pages you lost into your “See First” settings. This new feed for pages suggests that Facebook may go ahead and move all pages into a separate feed, the way that they did in Serbia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Slovakia and Guatemala…. Even though those experiments had severe impacts on free journalism in those countries and were met with a massive backlash.

The best way we can make sure that doesn’t happen worldwide is by telling Facebook that we don’t want it to. When Facebook sends you those little surveys about your Facebook experience, be honest. Speak up. Hide the posts it serves you that you don’t like and take active control of your use of the social network. Social media can be a mental health disaster, or it can be a useful way to spend your time and learn about the world. The only way to get there is to leave passive consumption of Facebook in 2017.

Happy clicking, commenting, liking and sharing, my friends.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

3 thoughts on “How the New Facebook Algorithm Affects You, a Normal Person

  1. The problem here is you appeal to our sense of empathy and moral but your just to whiny about it and condescending even.

  2. Great article but every time I see an article without a date I really have no idea whether it’s still current. This could be Feb 2018 or Feb 2013—-….???

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