It’s no accident that your Facebook News Feed is such a disastrous mess.

It turns out the content algorithmically selected and presented to users on their custom feeds is meant to generate likes, shares, or comments. But not, as one might naively suspect, for the benefit of the user looking at their feed. Rather the goal is to provide “little hits of dopamine” to the original poster in an effort to drive more content creation.

So said former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen on Tuesday in testimony to the Senate. This internal strategy, combined with the fact that, according to Haugen, “Facebook’s own research says they cannot adequately identify dangerous content,” goes a long way toward explaining why the Facebook News Feed is so dangerous.

Haugen is responsible for leaking a cache of internal Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal, which formed the basis of the paper’s bombshell “Facebook Files” series.

In one particularly revealing exchange, the whistleblower walked Sen. John Thune of South Dakota through a series of decisions made by Facebook — with the goal of juicing content creation — and the callous internal logic driving them.

“Facebook knows that when they pick out the content that we focus on using computers we spend more time on their platform, they make more money,” explained Haugen. “The dangers of engagement-based ranking are that Facebook knows that content that elicits an extreme reaction from you is more likely to get a click, a comment, or reshare, and it’s interesting because those clicks and comments and reshares aren’t even necessarily for your benefit.”

Facebook could just display content in the order it’s posted, perhaps something akin to Twitter’s reverse-chronological timeline. Instead, using engagement-based ranking, its News Feed prioritizes posts that are likely to get more likes, shares, and comments.

Haugen further detailed the thinking behind Facebook’s News Feed algorithm.

“It’s because [Facebook knows] that other people will produce more content if they get the likes and comments and reshares,” she told Sen. Thune. “They prioritize content in your feed so that you will give little hits of dopamine to your friends so that they will create more content. And they have run experiments on people, producer side experiments, where they have confirmed this.”

SEE ALSO: Facebook whistleblower says Zuckerberg put viral posts over safety — and may have given bonuses for it

So not only did Facebook fail to hit the brakes on the train wreck that is its News Feed algorithm, it’s been leaning on the accelerator this entire time.


You may also like