For most of us, liking something on Facebook is a way to acknowledge the things we’re interested in — and things we actually like. Sometimes we want to tell the algorithm that we dislike something, but we have to settle for simply not clicking the like button instead. What many users probably don’t understand is how the act of liking something impacts what we do and don’t see in our news feeds.
Wired contributor Mat Honan decided to undergo a little experiment, and liked everything he saw on Facebook for 48 hours. He even liked things he didn’t want to like. He encountered the “related content” loop, which could have kept him “liking” infinitely. He had to face the dilemma of liking posts about a friend’s injured toddler and one about a death in a family — he liked the former and decided against liking the latter.
Perhaps most telling was how his liking changed his news feed. He liked brands and articles. He liked pages. He liked coupons. And he liked Kohls.
“After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages,” Honan wrote.
He was only able to keep up his liking experiment for two days — but what happens to your news feed if you like almost everything for an extended period of time? If you like mostly status updates from friends — rather than brand posts — you might not find your page quite so overrun with advertising, according to Motherboard contributor Joseph Cox.
Cox interviewed a friend who has spent the last three years “leaving a trace of his presence on nearly everybody’s content.” This friend made the conscious decision not to like content or brand posts, but focused on liking photos, statuses and shared links from friends.
Despite becoming known among his friends as “the guy who likes everything,” Cox says his friend’s Facebook feed is filled with status updates and photos.
“Overall, it turns out that instead of the ad-bombarding nightmare of Honan’s news feed, my friend’s closer resembles what Facebook used to be before it became a platform for Upworthy posts and celebrity fan pages. It’s populated with the content of, well, his friends,” writes Cox.
For those who complain about Facebook thinking it knows what you want to see, consider the possibility that it does. And you influence it by telling it what you like.