Category Archives: Facebook

Spewing From the Facebook News Feed

In a sharp article that takes a curious turn at the end, Derek Thompson discusses the Facebook News Feed and how it’s influenced by users. The broader and more important point speaks to the role of Facebook as a news source and how it shapes the public’s attention on important issues and conversations.

The News Feed is perhaps the world’s most sophisticated mirror of its readers’ preferences—and it’s fairly clear that news isn’t one of them. We simply prefer stories that fulfill the very purpose of Facebook’s machine-learning algorithm, to show us a reflection of the person we’d like to be, to make us feel, to make us smile, and, most simply, to remind us of ourselves.

In Thompson’s view, since each user has the power to alter her News Feed, we can conclude that evocative and emotional stories are extremely popular on Facebook because users prefer engaging with these stories. We choose to like and share this kind of content and we prefer it over traditional journalism and “hard” news. Thompson believes that Facebook has become a portal to entertainment-focused stories because that’s what users actually want to consume.

The problem I see in this line of reasoning is how little attention is paid to Facebook’s own control of the algorithms that determine what users see. In Thompson’s essay he makes it seem as if users have full power to create the News Feed just because a user can friend/de-friend and follow certain pages. But I think Thompson confuses the ability to alter the News Feed with transparency and control over it. Except for Facebook employees, nobody knows what the News Feed algorithms look like. Thompson also fails to acknowledge that even machine-learning algorithms were created by humans and contain very human biases both unintentional and by design (which news sources are favored/what kind of behavior determines that a user actually likes a story).

Facebook’s interest is to maximize user engagement. By measuring likes, shares, and comments, the company is improving ways to keep us on the News Feed. But I think the question “How best to retain the audience?” is different from “What are the deeper preferences for consuming news?” Thompson, however, thinks they are the same.

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Facebook’s New News Feed

In the world according to Facebook we are bits expressing ostentatious enthusiasm or we do not exist. So argues Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Facebook is like a television that monitors to see how much you are laughing and changes the channel if it decides you aren’t laughing hard enough. It hopes to engrain in users the idea that if your response to something isn’t recordable, it doesn’t exist, because for Facebook, that is true. Your pleasure is its product, what it wants to sell to marketers, so if you don’t evince it, you are a worthless user wasting Facebook’s server space. In the world according to Facebook, emotional interiority doesn’t exist. Introspection doesn’t exist, and neither does ambivalence. There is only ostentatious enthusiasm or null dormancy.

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Facebook Courts Celebrities; Builds Twittery Tools

“It’s all part of a bigger push to encourage more “public” content on the site, beyond the stuff only you and your friends care about. Facebook wants you to spend more time talking about things in the news, or stuff you see on TV. And it would like you to pay attention to things your favorite celebrities do on the site,” reports Peter Kafka at AllThingsD

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The Olds Don’t Know Where Facebook Is

With a humorous bite Becca Hafter writes at The Awl:

But Olds don’t have Facebooks. They’re “on” Facebook. The Olds need a preposition when they talk about Facebook because they do not automatically locate themselves on the Internet. But their word choice serves an additional function. Their constant verbal reification of operating in (on) a space that is not theirs but Facebook’s works pretty well to keep themselves aware of the fact that Facebook owns everything they post. This is something millennials love to disregard.

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Bracing For A Post-Facebook Facebook

How will the company called Facebook continue to grow and innovate as Facebook the social network fades?

John Herrman of BuzzFeed tries to figure it out.

…while the internet moves fast, the world of social networking moves faster. Facebook, once a leader in almost every category it touched, now leads in almost none: it’s not the most exciting picture service, nor is it the next big messaging service, video service, mobile texting service, or news-sharing service. The only thing it definitely is is the leading identity service — something that a lot of sites are trying to take away from it.

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A Radical New Way To Look At Facebook

Matt Buchanan of the New Yorker Elements blog writes:

Graph Search will eventually index virtually all of the content on Facebook—every link that’s ever been posted, every status update, every piece of data that outside Web sites have shared with Facebook through its Open Graph program—but what users will get starting today is fairly limited in its scope, restricted to searches of photos, people, places, and interests. It doesn’t work on mobile yet, either. And it is ultimately limited by the kind of information that people share on Facebook. But it is already a powerful tool for excavating information that would otherwise go unnoticed, and for spotting previously undiscovered patterns.

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Hashtag Sympathy: Boston, Disaster Porn And The Law of Zuckerberg

Cyborgology

In my essay for Cyborgology, I explore the use of social media to express sympathy. I critique the media phenomenon known as disaster porn and apply it to the the logic of social sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

…documented sharing incentivizes Facebook and Twitter users to traffic in disaster porn. This is the depiction of destruction or tragedy in ways that do not enlighten, but merely sensationalize, pervert, exploit. The ego-stroking affirmations of social networks—the likes and RTs—the ones that push us to share new music and comment on engagement photos, seem perverse when dealing with gory misfortune. From this unsavory perspective, many of the declarations whizzing around Boston look like sympathy but smell like attention-seeking.

…As with older forms of news media, this risks entering into a perverse agenda-setting of the moral. To accept an attention-grabbing rubric to determine cultural significance is to bolster the same kind of news norms that we recognize to be malevolent. These include a preoccupation with the global north, xenophobic privileging of moneyed American interests, highlighting pornographic disaster over chronic, pervasive crime, a disregard for victims who are not white, downplaying environmental degradation with no immediate, visible harm.

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On Facebook, News Feed Ads That Track You

“These ads take into account people’s browsing behavior outside Facebook, as captured through cookies, with the aim of offering up messages about products they’ve already shown interest in,” writes Jennifer Van Grove of CNET.

Personalized advertising based on one’s Web browsing isn’t new, but this marks the first time Facebook has allowed advertisers to market their products directly on News Feed. (Prior to Tuesday, advertisers were only permitted to display these ads on the rightsize column of the site.)

As Van Grove notes, these types of ads are extremely valuable to merchants; they know that the products they’re pushing are the same ones you’ve been browsing and they can determine, with precision, whether you follow the link and make the purchase.

The tricky part for Facebook though, is not further alienating its users. Van Grove, and the analyst she quotes, use words like “creepy” and “jarring” to describe the feeling that consumers might have as they come upon their ad-augmented News Feed.

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Facebook And Documentary Vision: Viewing The World As An Always Potential Past…Or As A Snapchat

“The tension between experience for its own sake and experience we pursue just to put on Facebook is reaching its breaking point. That breaking point is called Snapchat.” This begins a sophisticated and accessible essay in The New Inquiry by the sociologist Nathan Jurgenson. Fascinated by photographs and the act of consuming images, Jurgenson discusses how the culture of photography has changed under the ever-presence of social media.

For those who live with status updates, check-ins, likes, retweets, and ubiquitous photography, such an understanding is near inescapable. Social media have invited users to adopt a sort of documentary vision, through which the present is always apprehended as a potential past. This is most triumphantly exemplified by Instagram’s faux-vintage filters.

As documentarians and photographers train their eyes to see the profound in the mundane, or to capture movement and emotion in a still image, professional habits become inescapable ticks. Documentary vision is to gaze at the world always with a picture frame in mind, as if every face, tree, shadow or dinner plate is a potential photograph. If you follow Jurgenson’s description, social media has now burdened us all with documentary vision. The real world is just material for Facebook.

Riffing off his earlier piece on Instragram and the faux-vintage photo (No, just because that filter makes me and my friends look like we are from the 1940s doesn’t make the frame important or worthy of memory), Jurgenson argues that the abundance of our Facebook galleries have lessened the value of the photograph. All the rehearsed posing and desperate retouching coupled with the limitless capacity of smartphone snapping and storing makes our digital museums less memorable, not more. In a culture where everything is seen as a potential, sharable post, smiling for the camera can be exhausting. (Pretend like you are having fun! Cheeeeeeese!)

This is why Snapchat, the app that lets you send temporary photographs, represents a refreshing change up.

Temporary photography is in part a response to social-media users’ feeling saddled with the distraction of documentary vision. It rejects the burden of creating durable proof that you are here and you did that. And because temporary photographs are not made to be collected or archived, they are elusive…By leaving the present where you found it, temporary photographs feel more like life and less like its collection.

Jurgenson goes on to say that temporary photography like Snapchat can actually help bolster the position of traditional photography. Amid the barf-stream of endless “Mimosa Brunch!!!” pics and “Were you in a frat?” bro photos, Snapchat is private and thus a more meaningful affair. It’s deliberately about nowness, not “Can’t wait to post this.” Snapchat’s fleeting impermanence reminds us why we take pictures in the first place.

“The ephemerality sharpens viewers’ focus: Once received, a Snapchat count-down is a kind of time-bomb that demands an urgency of vision, a challenge to exhaust the meaning from the image before the clock runs out. Unlike a paper photo that fades slowly over the years, the temporary photo disappears suddenly. Given only a peek, you look hard.”

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