Facebook

How Facebook is helping its users communicate

In January 2018 Facebook announced plans to reshape the content and priority of posts on its News Feed. Zuckerberg claims that spam, fake news, and clickbait content from marketers and publishers would be minimised, while priority will be given to relevant posts from friends and groups.

The aim is to gain back the original focus of Facebook, “establishing meaningful connections”, profiting from value added to the image of the social network and the company itself.

For the first time, Mark Zuckerberg is making a major decision that goes against one of his long-held beliefs: any change to the network must have the goal of improving engagement. This move, he concedes, will likely lead to people spending less time on the site. (Chris Baraniuk, 2018)¹

Facebook has often been researching methods to improve the way people interact with their main social media platform (let’s not forget that WhatsApp, Oculus, and Instagram — among others companies— are also owned by Facebook).

At the heart of Facebook Research there is the acknowledgement that their products are far from perfect. Building a safer and more inclusive design is always at the order of the day for everyone working at Facebook.

Social networks need to be constantly redesigned to meet the needs of their audience. To maintain its status (and profits), the social network colossus needs to be concerned about its users.

Sometimes this means collecting data from users through several tools which we interact to while on the platform. In the past few years, the company has put a lot of effort into diminishing self-censorship.

Self-censorship is the act of preventing oneself from speaking. Important in face-to-face communication, it is unsurprising that it manifests in communications mediated through social networking sites. On these venues, self-censorship may be caused by artifacts unique to, or exacerbated by, social media. (Sauvik and Kramer, 2013)²

Facebook believes that self-censorship in social media, while not the greatest of modern day issues, is perhaps still one which is worth reflecting about. An insight into this behaviour can be found in a recent article written by Sauvik Das — Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and ex software engineer intern at Facebook — and Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer.

The research focuses on last-minute self censorship. This behaviour happens when a user refrains from sharing a post or comment, “filtering a thought after it has been formed and expressed, but before it has been shared”².

The study revealed that 71% over the 3.9 million Facebook users in their sample, self-censored content at least once over the course of 17 days. The behaviour could be attributed to two main factors: people’s perception of their social media audience, and the multiple identities the user needs to manage when sharing online to “totally distinct social circles”².

Furthermore, the data acquired indicates a prominent gender and age gap regarding self-censorship. Men are found to censor more than women, and so do users with more opposite sex friends. On the other hand, younger users generally censor less — an exception comes from users with an higher percentage of older friends, who will censor more.

Additional data and conclusions from Sauvik and Kramer on this research can be found here.

The papers also report how this data, and what kind of it, is collected. Facebook claims that when users type in a textbox nothing but binary digits of whether that post was published or not get collected. Information about what you type are not sent back to Facebook’s server.

For some, even the remote ability to collect such data poses threats to the user’s privacy. At the same time, we all would benefit from a more open and diverse platform where thoughts are shared freely — without that constant fear of spamming your entire circle of friends.

“…Facebook considers your thoughtful discretion about what to post as bad, because it withholds value from Facebook and from other users. Facebook monitors those unposted thoughts to better understand them, in order to build a system that minimizes this deliberate behavior.” (Jennifer Golbeck, 2013)³

I, sometimes, find myself self-censoring thoughts online for the fear of not being true to my persona. And while I — like many others — would prefer to know which of my online movements are tracked by the website I’m visiting, I also would do want to see a change in the image and content of modern social media. And can guess we all wish that will happen soon.


Image Source: Pixabay.

References:

  1. Baraniuk, C. (2018). Facebook plans major news feed changes. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42657621.
  2. Das, S. and Kramer, A. (2013). Self-Censorship on Facebook. [ebook] Available at: https://research.fb.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/self-censorship-on-facebook.pdf.
  3. Golbeck, J. (2018). Facebook Wants to Know Why You’re Self-Censoring Your Posts. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/12/facebook_self_censorship_what_happens_to_the_posts_you_don_t_publish.html.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, weekend photographer, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

w. http://francescoimola.com/

tw. https://twitter.com/francescoimola

What it’s like to use Facebook without numbers.

5 years later and Demetricator add-on is still key to productivity.

How Ben Grosser’s Facebook Demetricator works (Before and After)

Popularity on social networks is addicting. Those at Facebook know this well. It’s the reason why every post, share, notification, and interaction we experience on Facebook is accompanied by metrics: numbers that show how many people have interacted with us, or how many new friend requests or notifications we have received.

From a practical perspective, metrics are rather useless. We don’t need to know when exactly a friend has shared their last post and how many people have liked our new profile picture.

Or do we?

It all comes down to social interaction

A recent report by GlobalWebIndex shows that the top 3 reasons for using social media are staying in touch with what your friends are doing (42%), keeping up-to-date with news and current events (39%), and filling-up spare time (39%).

Most of us use social networks to connect with friends and share with them our achievements and, sometimes, pitfalls in life. We want others to know where we’ve gone on vacation this year and what song we liked on the radio the other day, while also keeping ourselves updated with what’s going on around our area and beyond. The greater the response, the more motivated we feel.

On this matter, Facebook developers are playing with our self-esteem, constantly making us conscious of what we’ve missed and what we’ve gained through metrics, a careful design choice aimed at increasing interactions with the website, other people, and companies through advertising — and here’s where Facebook revenue comes into place.

Facebook Demetricator

Quality over quantity

5 years ago, Benjamin Grosser — artist and faculty member at the University of Illinois — published a tool that would wipe away all Facebook metrics and replace those with less quantifiable data. The Facebook Demetricator plugin can replace, for instance, “51 people like this” with “People like this”, or [person] posted this “2 hours ago” with “Recently”. In an interview with arts organisation and new-media platform Rhizome, Grosser states:

“Would we add as many friends if we weren’t constantly presented with a running total and told that adding another is “+1”? Would we write as many status messages if Facebook didn’t reduce its responses (and their authors) to an aggregate value? In other words, the site’s relentless focus on quantity leads me to continually measure the value of my social connections within metric terms.”

Originally released as an open source browser extension, it is still under constant development by users trying to keep up with Facebook’s mysterious news feed algorithm.

Quality instead of Quantity (Facebook Demetricator: before and after)

How the software works

On a simplistic level, the Demetricator plugin “runs within the web browser, constantly watching Facebook when it’s loaded and removing or replacing the metrics wherever they occur. […] The demetrication is not a brute-force removal of all numbers within the site, but is instead a targeted operation that focuses on only those places where Facebook has chosen to reveal a count from their database.” (Ben Grosser)

In order to efficiently search the site’s HTML for any metrics, the Demetricator makes extensive use of Javascript libraries. This does not interfere with Facebook delivering data to its users because it runs above every other layer of the website.

The source code for the software is open source and available on GitHub.

Is the Demetricator a tool for me?

I found out about Grosser’s project just this week and was instantly eager to try it out myself and see how the experiment would have turned out in my case.

As a heavy social media user, I spend on average more than 1 hour a day between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. Anything that is designed to make my eyes shy away from social networks can only be openly welcomed.

After a couple of days using the Demetricator, I found myself reacting less to posts and actually focusing on what people would write or share. Like counts and timestamps have demonstrated their inutility to establishing meaningful connections. That being said, I will be definitely sticking to it, at least for a good while.

Ben Grosser’s latest Facebook interactive tool is called Go Rando: a browser extension that automatically chooses for you one of the six Facebook reactions each time you react to a post. Find more about Ben’s work on his website.


Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, photographer, and Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

http://francescoimola.com