Apparently Facebook's News Feed Algorithm Isn't Too Hard To Game

Chris CrumSocial Media

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Another story about someone gaming Facebook's News Feed algorithm made its way into the news, which isn't good for the company, as it keeps going out of its way to improve News Feed quality.

Do you think the quality of the Facebook News feed has improved this year? Let us know in the comments.

Last month, Wired's Mat Honan wrote a story that got a lot of attention. He liked everything he came across in the News Feed for two days straight, and found that it created a terrible user experience not only for himself, but also for his friends.

Just three days before that, The Atlantic's Caleb Garling wrote about "tricking Facebook's algorithm." He was able to force an article to the top of people's News Feeds after being angered by Facebook burying it the first time he shared it. He explained:

I posted: “Hey everyone, big news!! I’ve accepted a position trying to make Facebook believe this is an important post about my life! I’m so excited to begin this small experiment into how the Facebook algorithms processes language and really appreciate all of your support!”

The first like and comment came almost instantly. I liked back. Then a few more. People were playing along. I liked them all back. Then momentum began to pick up: You could almost feel two great blue hands ratcheting the post up my friends’ feeds. Then victory: Around the 39-minute mark after I published the status update, my friend Casey told me my status—rather than possible updates from about 1,000 friends—was at the top of his feed. Nine minutes later, another friend confirmed the same. More and more people said the post was firmly at the top of their feed—and not just (actual) friends, but former colleagues I hadn’t talked to in years. After 90 minutes, the post had 57 likes and 25 commenters.

For the next two days, the likes and comments poured in, and people reported my status was still at the top of their feed. (Some even asked how to make it go away.) As of this writing, it has 134 likes and 62 comments.

The latest example comes from Margarita Noriega (via AllFacebook), director of social media at Fusion, who tried something similar. She wrote this as a status update:

Guys, I have big personal news about my family and friends! Congratulations! Facebook may or may not show you this post. But keywords like baby, marriage, “I’m engaged!” and “new job” might end up at the top of your feed. So I’m testing it out!!!

It worked. Like Garling's post, Noriega's appeared at the top of her friends' feeds. That included Taylor Lorenz, head of social media for The Daily Mail, who reportedly saw the post at the top of her feed for four days.

The combination of seemingly important keywords and comments on the post apparently sent strong signals to Facebook's algorithm.

Facebook commented to WebProNews about Honan's experience, essentially saying that people are responsible for what's in their own News Feeds, but didn't have anything to say at the time about Garling's little experiment, which is pretty much in line with Noriega's.

We can only assume that Facebook is paying attention, and will work on ways to prevent this from happening.

The company has a "How News Feed Works" page in its help center, and gives vague descriptions about its signals. Under "How does News Feed decide which stories to show?" it says:

The stories that show in your News Feed are influenced by your connections and activity on Facebook. This helps you to see more stories that interest you from friends you interact with the most. The number of comments and likes a post receives and what kind of story it is (ex: photo, video, status update) can also make it more likely to appear in your News Feed.

If you feel you're missing stories you'd like to see, or seeing stories in your News Feed that you don't want to see, you can adjust your settings.

Of course, it doesn't say anything about certain words or phrases that send signals to Facebook, though in light of the aforementioned examples, it's hard to imagine that they don't play a role.

Facebook also continues to show users content from people they're not friends with and groups they're not part of as well as other stuff from pages they don't already like. Many people aren't a big fan of this concept, particularly since Facebook isn't showing more from Pages people went out of their way to like in the first place.

In your opinion, is Facebook on the right track with the News Feed? Share your thoughts here.

Image via Facebook

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.