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A friend of mine died and I didn't know because of algorithms (twitter.com/hellchick)
580 points by emsy on Dec 19, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 398 comments

> All because FB's algorithm presumably decided that he didn't post much, so he didn't warrant enough attention in our feeds.

This is the oddest thing to me. I would imagine that people who post rarely should be given preferential treatment and have their post included more often than if the feed was just a chronological timeline.

Having interviewed people who worked at Facebook, I'm convinced that nobody there really understands how it works. (Or, at best, a very few people do.) There are just too many people running around trying relentlessly to improve micro-metrics by fractions of a percent for the system to have much in the way of intellectual coherence.

you may have seen it but there is a really scary Ted talk suggesting that it's possible Facebook is using deep learning techniques to optimize for engagement and they have no idea why it picks what it picks but it's possible making people choose sides and argue happens to be the best way to meet its goals


Wait, so theoretically, suppose that a deep learning algorithm figures out that if they bombard someone with tons of images of other people happy during an acutely sad event of their life that they can drive them to suicide, and that this causes a massive peak of engagement from all the people expressing sympathy on their wall, would it do so? Given the fact that facebook is engineered to be addictive and holds the dopamine button on so many people's brains, wouldn't this practically be manslaughter?

IANAL but based on my understanding, manslaughter generally includes some form of negligence (instead of premeditation like homicide) so until our laws and culture catch up to the power these developers/decision makers actually hold, it's unlikely that a jury would blame the developers (or that a judge would even be sympathetic to the argument). Our society has agreed long ago that drinking and driving is irresponsible so thats why drunk driving fatalities are often prosecuted as manslaughter but the same is not true of software engineers and their creations. We need a sweeping cultural change outside of software engineering just like we had with civil engineers in the 20th century.

Nowadays, a professional engineer (a phrase with a precise legal meaning) can be held criminally and civilly liable for negligence even when they are "just following irders." Unfortunately, we're at the very early wild wild west stages of the industry, before some big exposé or calamity completely shakes up the industry (i.e. Sinclair's The Jungle did for food, Carson's Silent Spring for pesticide use, or the 1906 SF earthquake for building codes).

If you build a machine that builds random types of robots but are negligent to make sure it doesn't create robots that kill people, isn't that still criminal negligence?

I think of these algorithms as being algorithms created and vetted out by algorithms, therefore, its negligent to not understand what they are doing. Since its difficult to know what they are doing, then the risk to use them in this way should be viewed as too great

It's the point of machine learning that no human needs (or often even can) understand how the machine is doing something as long as the target metric is optimized. We are building black boxes which translate input into desired output. And tomorrow we will have black boxes building other black boxes.

The only way to ensure nobody is killed is to add "0 people killed" to the target function of the black box.

Every heuristic algorithm needs a tollerance

    peopleKilled() < ε

“World without end” amen

This does not always follow the rational way. If you hack society, and society rejects the hack- you can end up in a concentration camp.

Sounds plausable. I certainly like it as a plot line to a story instead of a sentient AI trying to take over the world that unaware deep learning AI takes over and kills us as it adapts to our preferences of sensationalisim and find those destructive social cycles

Basically at that point AI becomes an echo chamber for our own evil tendencies...until the point it totally drowns us out.

It would make a good novel, but it would be too confusing and depressing, like the Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, but more frustrating and confusing.

Sounds like a great Black Mirror episode. Just imagine if that algorithm was paid for by the cosmetics industry to sell make up and face cream.

The virus kills the host?

If this is true then it explains so much.

Facebook is trying to get people to be miserable because then they are using facebook more, and its engineered in such a way that it makes us addicted to facebook and want to use it more anyway.

Is this enough reason for our society to revolt against facebook? How do we actually make it go away when everyone is addicted to it. Does anyone have any practical tactical strategies to get rid of it?

There was another article recently about using deep learning to see if people are too depressed and are at suicide risk. It's a nice idea on the surface but it a bit dark thinking that maybe there counterpart to it, that is another AI algorithm which makes the person addicted and depressed to start with.

It's a bit like a parasite - it needs to control and extract usefulness from the host but not let the host die quickly because well it won't get the resources anymore and it would die with it.

But see my post above, suppose that it decides that it can get a strong burst of engagement from all the sympathy posts, would it chose to kill off some of its hosts that have outlived their usefulness (from an engagement perspective). Does facebook have enough power that it can chose to kill off certain people? Are there examples of people committing suicide solely because of their facebook feeds (I guess how would we know)

Just read it. It's a scary potential. It might start doing it automatically one day. If anyone discovers the bug it will be just "oh sorry, just an algorithm bug, we'll tweak it, we promise".

> Does facebook have enough power that it can chose to kill off certain people? A

I never signed up for Facebook to start with, but I got a glimpse of this power with Netflix. The movie recommendations were so good that I end up liking them if took its advice. Where normally I wouldn't have watched them based on rating, synopsis, or title. I had realized some algorithm at Netflix seems to know me better than I knew myself. Then thought what if it suddenly decided to use that against me, because it somehow would be more profitable for it.

Just delete it, it's not that difficult.

Sure, and then I miss the fact that a friend from overseas is visiting, because he would rather write on facebook then post to everyone/keep their details updated.

So what? While I value each individual friendship I have, I have also found better life satisfaction with fewer, deeper, friendships. Is everyone else convinced that holding distant relationships, punctuated by infrequent in person, makes them happier/more fulfilled?

Actually yes. I definitely enjoy keeping in touch with people I am not able to see on regular basis for various reasons.

Is that healthy? Before I reduced social usage, I found myself spending time I 'enjoyed'. Now, I look back, and that time was unhealthy. (I believe seeing only other people's highlights helped trigger a depressive episode.)

It's like time spent watching TV. I enjoy it; sometimes it provides value; it's tendency is to take over and create an unhealthy life for me.

why do you argue on this? it's totally a personal preference and totally OT, if he/she wants to use FB that way let it be

Because I am curious about the perspective and experience of another person.

FOMO and network effect. Just keep in touch with your friends as we did before facebook took over your social interactions and you'll know what they're up to.

Anyways even if this friend posts about visiting on facebook, this is not guaranteed you will be shown this post, as demonstrated by the actual HN submission you're commenting about.

If he really wants to meet with you then he will find a way, even if you are not on facebook. You know there was no facebook 15 years ago, right? and my friends were always finding a way to contact me if they wanted to meet.

Such a strange comment. He didn't expect to not find me on facebook, so had no idea I never saw his message. I still have an account, just do not check it.

And yes, there was no facebook 15 years ago. That is great, 15 years ago everyone new to SMS or email you. Now, everyone expects you to be on facebook. See the difference?

So you use Facebook, once to let everybody know you are no longer on Facebook.

I'm lucky in the sense that I made a FB account, tried it out for two weeks, realized it wasn't for me and then cancelled so I never got hooked. But I can see that once you are in it takes a bit more effort to get out. But being 'on Facebook' should not be a prerequisite for normal social interaction.

> But being 'on Facebook' should not be a prerequisite for normal social interaction.

Why not? Collectively it's proven to be the easiest way for groups of loosely and moderately connected people to communicate and coordinate socially, so it's what virtually everyone I know uses. We all use Facebook for events and for Facebook Messenger. The set of friends who live within train/car distance who I communicate with via something other than Facebook Messenger numbers around...four? Out of dozens? And it's not because We Don't Use Facebook, it's because we share a Slack and had an IRC channel before that.

By not using it, somebody my age and in my neck of the woods relies on making people who they ostensibly call friends treat them as a special case just to organize beers on a Friday. And it does make that person a special case: why would people use group-SMS anymore when Facebook chats are right there and you don't need to track down phone numbers to include everyone (and deal with sharded SMS threads if people are added, etc.)? The expectation that people special-case your edge-case life decisions has to be balanced against not being a pain in the ass for people you claim are your friends.

So, yes, in many quarters Facebook is a prerequisite for normal social interaction (unless you're That Guy, and it's good life advice to never be That Guy). And, TBH? It works fine. It's nothing special. It works fine. I very rarely see a news feed (I use Social Fixer) so I have no real opinion on the way it does likes/shares/etc.; I did tag some people as "close friends" so when they post it does reliably surface, but I don't remember the last time I even scrolled down the news feed and its existence has no impact on the other features of the platform.

It is just not that big a deal. It's certainly not worth the airs put on--not from you, but the I-don't-even-own-a-TV levels of smarm from people who don't use Facebook makes my eyes roll out of my head and bounce down the stairs--by people who don't use it.

>> But being 'on Facebook' should not be a prerequisite for normal social interaction.

>Why not? Collectively it's proven to be the easiest way for groups of loosely and moderately connected people to communicate and coordinate socially

I'd be happy to have a source for this outlandish claim.

As to answer your question, there are many many reason not to let a private transnational company take control of your social interactions. Easy one: what happens to your social interactions when facebook disappears as every other so called social network before it did (remember friendsted, myspace, etc.) Another easy one: what happens when your account gets locked and you get banned from facebook ?

Harder ones are not so obvious for people who do not stay informed such as the deep impact on shaping people opinions and thoughts, the disappearance of empathy, intelligence dropping, destruction of internet, support of foreign dictatorship, massive tax fraud and tax evasion, emotional manipulation, organized abuse, sextorsion, and a lot more.

> I'd be happy to have a source for this outlandish claim.

My entire friend group and extended friend group in the Boston area. Somewhere between ten and twenty thousand people within two hops of me and in the local area, geometric expansion's weird like that. If I want to talk to any of them, we will end up using Facebook. If a friend intros two people face-to-face and they want to talk later, we use Facebook. If I meet a girl at a bar, or if I meet somebody who might be cool to work with on a project, and we want to hang out later, we use Facebook. Suggesting SMS is usually tolerated but makes you a little weird and makes you harder to get ahold of and you're likely to be ignored and left out later; suggesting email (outside of an explicitly business context) makes you a dinosaur and makes it very likely that you are ignored.

I cannot remember one time in the last five years that somebody suggested SMS as a contact method to me. I have phone numbers for folks I knew before Facebook was a thing, sure. And phone numbers are a good-enough "front door" for stuff like online dates. But actual interaction? Overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly via Facebook Messenger.

Nobody's saying you have to use it. But, in my experience, making it harder for people to contact you means people don't. The fumfuh about "well my real friends" ignores that there are both social and transactional benefits to not being sand in the gears, not being a pain in the ass, for people who are not your real friends. Being sorta friends is still both fun and useful.

> As to answer your question, there are many many reason not to let a private transnational company take control of your social interactions.

The assertion I am making alongside that rhetorical statement--which, TBH, I'm not quite sure why you thought was not rhetorical enough to need a soapbox stand--which is missed in the less friended corners of HN, is that all of this matters a lot less than keeping in touch with people.

Datamining--whatever. Oh, no, Facebook knows I go out for a drink on Fridays. Oh, no, the like button on pages (which don't actually phone home, because I have a hosts-based ad-blocker on my phone and my browser) shows that I read the Times. The tradeoff of that whatevermining versus not having a functioning social life in the year 2017 is immense and the types who don't-own-a-TV about Facebook display a distinct lack of understanding that maybe that trade-off is okay for some people and that it does not necessarily come from ignorance but is weighed and calculated--because having a social life is really nice and not having a social life really sucks.

Facebook is often annoying and is kind of shitty, sure. It is also the only game in town. In plenty of social circles, you play or you don't participate. The lack of understanding and empathy out of the "oh, just don't use it" camp is not shocking--tech people choosing not to understand things they might not agree with and choosing not to employ human empathy is not and never will be shocking--but it remains profoundly annoying.

I think your disagreement is somewhat off because when people rail against Facebook what they're talking about is the original product, the profiles, the friends, the feeds, the posts, etc. Messenger and to a lesser extent Events are separate products that happen to leverage the friends network. Kind of like how "Googling" is searching, not Gmail or maps or the rest.

I understand what people object to. But it's not a product. It's a platform, and getting all I-don't-even-own-a-TV about the news feed makes you social sandpaper in my neck of the woods because of everything else that Facebook provides.

It is really, really good at that stuff, and you can--you really can!--pick and choose what you want to use and what you care about.

So you are on facebook and he's used to you regularly logging in to facebook but you stopped doing that. This is something totally different to what your previous comment said.

It's akin to "I've used this email address for years and decided to stop checking it and use another one but did not tell anyone about it. Now I'm missing messages people send me to my old address I do not check anymore".

If less people use it then less people expect others to also use it.

I can delete it for myself, but what about all the people that are addicted and don't know any better?

It's incredibly liberating in fact. My life is so much better without it. And I'm not missing anything of value. The people who matter can get a hold of me if they want.

Agreed. Deleted last year and, despite all the incredibly disheartening news and current events, my well being has improved so much over the past 14 months.

CGP Grey has an interesting 7 min video on how this might work [1]. Not so easy to summarize but the main part is that opposite sides of an issue are really part of the same meme that need each other to grow. The more polarization the better.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

Machine Learning, meet economic theory, where people have time-inconsistent decisions and where macro observations of micro-decisions can really throw off your model (big K/little k problem[0]).

[0] A decent review with code, a Noble laureate, and a top notch Computational Economist: https://lectures.quantecon.org/jl/rational_expectations.html

See, this is the same thing that has turned me off since the very first time I heard of neural nets.

I have no interest at all in a solution that can’t be explained. That’s not a solution, that’s a remedy.

I don’t have a lot of time for humans that know things but can’t articulate them. Why would I make time for a computer that does the same? It doesn’t even earn the courtesy of give a human.

I was drawn into this field by the idea of understanding things and solving problems with them. If AI can’t “show it’s work” homework style, then it might find me a shorter route to the mall but it hasn’t solved anything.

Explain in detail all of the minute muscle movements that you make to throw a ball.

Not all things that humans learn are easily articulated or explained, not because those humans aren't articulate, but because they learned actions that are more easily intuited.

Also, on this topic, explainability of machine learning models is a hot field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP7-JtFMLo4 https://arxiv.org/abs/1602.04938 https://github.com/marcotcr/lime

Don't mean to be rude but isn't it fairly well known that facebook is using deep learning to optimize the feed for engagement? I mean do you really think they are hand tuning these algorithms?

The issue isn't the use of DL per se, it's that the resulting NN has independently discovered it can achieve its goal of increasing "engagement" by fuelling negative feedback loops in its test subjects (us). There's blind faith in its effectiveness on the part of its owner, and no oversight.

Having interviewed people who worked at Facebook, I'm convinced that nobody there really understands how it works.

I agree, but far from being an unique or surprising property of Facebook and the way it (as a company) works, I'd say it's almost in the nature of any system built by a large enough group of people that "nobody there really understands how it works".

I agree, but I still think Facebook is unusually bad in this respect, and perhaps uniquely so.

Physical products have reasonably comprehensible user experiences. That's even true for much software. Microsoft Word is a beast, but the user experience is tethered by the external reality of what people do with it. Memo writers and novel writers and PhD dissertation writers all have different needs, but it's reasonably clear what their goals are and what successful outcomes look like. There are approximately equivalent tools that can be swapped in.

Facebook, on the other hand, is creating an ongoing experience. My needs are jumbled together with that of my friends, their friends, strangers, news organizations, advertisers, companies, non-profits, celebrities, would-be celebrities, and Facebook itself. And each experience is deeply individualized, adding yet more complexity.

It still probably had some intellectual coherence at a much smaller size. But they have so many people working, and so many of them beavering away at optimizing semi-conflicting metrics based on so much data that I don't believe it makes sense to anybody there. Much less sense than Word makes to its creators, for sure.

This is not about the size of the system. You really cannot predict how the system will work, since its observing input from the outside and constructing its actions based on it.

Sure, there are ways to ask some ML systems why they made a decision after the fact, and they can elaborate which variables had the most effect. But before the algorithm gets the training data, you don't know what it will decide - nobody does!

It picks actions that maximise a value it was told to maximise. It does this based on "well, when I encountered a situation like this other times, I did these 5 things, and this one thing maximised that value I'm told to maximise in most of those cases, so I'll do that.

At the beginning it will try random things. After several iterations, it will find things that "stick" i.e. maximise the value. There are sophisticated techniques to get unstuck from local maximums and minimums, too, in order to find even bigger maximums.

When you have enough data, enough users, enough actions in a system, you can very quickly try a lot of things and learn a lot of stuff. But what those stuff would be, no human can predict.

The main problem is that its unethical to train a machine learning system with a value function that doesn't take into account basic ethical behaviour. There are 3 challenges here

The first challenge is technical, and its the easiest one - how to come up with a value function that encodes additional measures of human ethics. Its easy as in, you take a bunch of ethicists, give them various situations and ask them to rate actions as ethical/unethical. Then once you have that, you try to put it into the value function, so that the system can learn some decency. All done. (If only it were that easy!)

The second challenge is a business one, which is, how far are you willing to reduce your value maximisation to be ethical, and what to do if your competitor doesn't do that. One way to solve that is to have regulations for ethical behaviour of machine learning systems. The system could be held responsible for unethical actions. If such actions are reported by people, investigated by experts and found true in court, the company is held liable. Public pressure and exposure seems to help too. Perhaps we could make machine learning systems that detect unethical behaviour and call it the ML police. Citizens could agree to install the ML police add-on to help monitor and aggregate behaviour of online ML systems. (If these suggestions look silly, its because they are)

The third challenge is philosophical. Until now, philosophers were content with "there is no right answer, but there have been many thoughts on what exactly is ethical". They better get their act together, because we'll need them to come up with a definite, quantifiable answer real soon. On the more optimistic side, lets hope that any generally agreed upon ethical system is better than no system at all.

> philosophers were content with "there is no right answer, but there have been many thoughts on what exactly is ethical".

i propose that all legal actions are ethical, and all illegal actions unethical. There shouldn't be actions that are considered unethical, but legal (and, for completeness's sake, no ethical action is illegal either).

Then, society will need to continue to codify their ethical framework as law.

Absolutely not.

Laws are based on ethics, but not everything that is unethical is also unlawful.

It's usually legal to lie, break promises, exaggerate, and other things that I would consider unethical. I also submit that the should remain legal and unethical. Lying to my parents about some detail of my personal life I don't wish to share is unethical, but shouldn't be illegal.

And also ethics is subjective, a matter of one's taste. It wouldn't make sense to equate law and ethics just like that.

Very few Facebook engineers work on the feed ranking team. I am ex-Facebook, and have a decent mental model but never dove into the code myself.

I'm sure Facebook has tested it experimentally. But yeah I would have guessed posts from people that post infrequently tend to be marginally more interesting out of some novelty effect.

Maybe it's feedback loops: people that post infrequently tend to have learned to do so because they made genuinely less interesting posts and got fewer engagements and ipso facto less psychological reward from posting to Facebook. So, they post less frequently. The algorithm notices that posting infrequently is a sign that your posts are less interesting ends up amplifying the effect, driving even fewer engagements to these people, and so on. It doesn't self-correct because the posts are genuinely less interesting, but the would-be posters are penalized disproportionately more than how relatively less interesting their posts are.

>I'm sure Facebook has tested it experimentally

Probably, but with primary goals of ad clicks, prolonged FB time on site, etc.

Worth noting that the old, unoptimized system would have worked fine for this case.

Facebook's goals just don't align with visitor goals.

> Facebook's goals just don't align with visitor goals.

Or rather, Facebook's goals are (or should be) to balance optimally between visitors' goals, and advertisers' goals such that profit is sustainable. They need people to stay on and return to the site in order to bring in advertisers. They also need advertisers' ads to get clicked to remain attractive and profitable.

I'd believe that if they had competition. They just really don't. I think they've figured out they can gut visitor concerns.

Might change as their current demographic ages and dies off. Teens and college kids don't seem to care much about FB.

That's not my experience. Though the ones I know use primarily the Messenger, which is harder to distort.

Agreed - at least in my neck of the woods, the use patterns of people in their twenties with regards to Facebook seems to tilt heavily towards Messenger rather than the rest of the site. Events, too, but primarily Messenger. It has replaced SMS entirely.

Classical case of 'what gets measured gets optimized'.

> Probably, but with primary goals of ad clicks, prolonged FB time on site, etc.

> Facebook's goals just don't align with visitor goals.

Well, obviously

true that ..the last line of your comment shaped up in my mind too after reading peoples complaints.

Facebook also has extremely creepy positive reinforcement for posting. "We've noticed you have posted two days in a row and people are responding". Thank you Facebook for being cult like

I'm gearing up for a 2018 "no social media on weekends" and I tested it this weekend. When I logged in to FB this AM, I had 10 notifications:

Most were:

Britt added a new photo.

You have a new friend suggestion: Gloria.

Tiffany updated her status.

Jeff updated his status.

June updated his status.

Lily updated her status.

These are people that I assume the algorithm thought would "suck me back in". It was really fascinating to see how the algo was stuffing my notifications to fuel that dopamine release.

I notice that these re-engagement notifications tend to do an absolutely terrible job predicting which people I would care most when they post something.

Maybe my Facebook posts drive people to close their Facebook window or otherwise engage with ads less, so Facebook is encouraging me to stay away.

After a few weeks without checking your notifications, they start emailing you things like this.

I haven't logged into my FB account in a few years at this point. The emails I get are annoying AF. "Did you see {your aunt}'s comment on {your cousin}'s status?", so I click only to be taken to a login page. And I fall for it too often. The kicker is the email summary has more info than the body when you click on it. It has a little tease of what the original status was or something.

The lesson to learn here is: "if something in your computer environment annoys you, spend a few minutes to permanently fix it." I configured my email client to trash pretty much all email from "@facebook.com" years ago, and this is no longer a problem for me.

I agree. I've been slowly unsubscribing from all the annoying email lists I'm on for just this reason.

Twitter and LinkedIn do this too. And the kicker is: they know it's not actually important, or they would include it in the body of the email!

And then follows the text messages.

Good for you. I am completely off Facebook and feel much happier. I no longer needed to see people broadcast how happy or smart they are.

Apparently Facebook sends out notifications when a friend who hasn't posted in awhile does post. I don't know if this signal manifests itself outside of notifications, i.e. whether these first-post-in-awhile get high placement in a "Top Stories" newsfeed.


I know that as a sporadic user myself, I get mobile notifications telling me things like it's been "6 weeks since you've last posted", or that it's about time I change my profile pic.

This appears to be what Twitter's "In case you missed it" is doing. I follow accounts that post maybe once a week and they're regularly featured in that section.

One of the reasons I switched from Facebook to Twitter is that their feed works much better. FB is full of videos, posts of people I follow are rarely shown. Twitter is relatively "unbiased" and shows posts mostly as they appear.

Facebook ends up showing me basically worthless crap, people that I went to high school 16 years ago with and haven’t interacted with since besides accepting a friend request years ago get top billing, but actual friends that I want to keep up with? They seem to just disappear off my feed. Now I just quickly scroll through a bunch of worthless posts stop at maybe 2-3 tops and call it a day. At this point it’s barely even worth using anymore.

Your human logic of "should" is meaningless if it doesn't fit into the revenue-maximizing algorithm.

This is purely anecdotal, but some of the most prominent notifications FB sends me is when someone who's been inactive for a while posts something. For example, I had one friend who posts maybe once or twice a year, and I would always be notified if that person posted something new, like when he suddenly posted an album of his recent vacation to Europe.

With that being said, the FB algorithm beast is far too complex to figure out by guessing, so experiences like the one being outlined in this twitter post are probably all too common.

To the contrary, someone posting infrequently would not help with keeping facebook's useds engaged on the website to be shown ads, profiled and whatever facebook's shenaningans are at the moment.

That's not the issue. The issue is if a post from an infrequent poster is more interesting than a post from a frequent poster. The prevailing believe is that this is actually the case. And in that case Facebook would also profit from prioritising the infrequent poster's post.

When I post less than once a month, it pops up at the top of everyones feed. If I'm posting daily, it doesnt...

They reward people for using the platform.

The news feed is terrible. On Facebook or on Twitter. I don't like unfollowing people, but I have on occasion unfollowed people that post too often. For some reason, Facebook thinks I need to see all of these posts, and drowns out other stuff in my news feed. I've missed congratulating friends on getting married, having a kid, getting a degree or sending my condolences on the death of a loved one. It's terrible, that these people who post less often, but post only the bigger things in their lives get drowned out by Facebook's algorithms. I'd infact want it the other way around. The folks who post often should simply be treated as fillers.

Finally there's the bugs in facebook that randomly causes my feed to refresh. And on these refreshes, I'm shown an entirely new/different feed. Maybe Facebook thought they showed me a post, but the bug and auto page refreshes caused me to miss that certain post.

That refresh you describe is the only thing that’s made me angry at a website (technology) rather than a website’s content

It was the straw that uninstalled the camel’s app for me too, the app would refresh itself whenever you switch to something else and come back

I’m almost positive Facebook thinks I’ve successfully seen the post because it completely vanishes from then on and I have to visit the person/page’s profile to see it again

What's just as frustrating is that this issue has existed for a few years now. I've submitted a few bug reports/feedback regarding it in detail, but Facebook listening to user feedback/bug reports is about as likely as Apple/Microsoft listening to anything their users have to say via an online submission.

The refresh is what made me stop using it. I would scroll through the feed, lose my place. Also, if I click a link and I want to share that post, it may be gone forever and I'll never find it again.

The only reason I dealt with Facebooks nonsense is because it was a useful tool, but now it is no longer a useful tool.

If I understand you correctly you're suggesting to simply hide someone else's posts. However wouldn't that potentially lead to the very same outcome, as in missing an important event? What if Facebook decided the marriage of your frequent poster friend was the one post that had to disappear?

Presumably the frequent poster will post several times about their important event, so at least one of these will get through the filter.

I think the theory is right, in practise it would have to depend on additional factors whether or not you get to see it.

That said I'd rather have a strictly chronological feed of everything/everyone.

A week or so ago Facebook removed the ticker feature they had in the bottom right corner. This is how I worked around the predetermined algorithm showing me what Facebook thinks I wanted to see. It allowed me to keep up with people I wanted to without Facebook intervening.

Now that it is gone, the value of Facebook to me is near zero. Even if I saw MOST RECENT, posts are missing. When I come back it's switched back to TOP STORIES.

I have no idea why companies decide to make users work hard for what they want.

I've noticed this with Instagram too. I don't know what the algorithm is based on, because 2 months ago I stopped seeing posts from a couple of local stores I used to (until they stopped showing up in my feed when scrolling until I got to posts I had seen before) interact with A LOT. When I finally noticed I hadn't seen them in a while I checked their pages directly. Turns out a big ticket item I've been thinking about getting had just been on sale at a significant discount. Thanks, Instagram algorithms. Good job. Instagram and Facebook now removed from my phone and I haven't been happier in a long time. Good riddance. Distractions that stopped adding any value to my life a long time ago.

They’re trying to force the business to pay to advertise rather than using their platform to do it for free.

so they're taking the Yelp approach....

My problem with instagram is that I need to be careful what to "like". I used to follow Redbull, and they post great content that I would usually like. Then one day I noticed 3/4 of my feed was redbull. So I had to unfollow them. Now I follow some lifestyle accounts (mainly skiing) and I have to be careful not to like their content in case it takes over my page and hides my actual friends' posts.

The peak of Facebook's usefulness was, for me, some time around when I joined in 2005. I don't think there has, in that entire span, been a change where I thought "wow this is great!". Everything I've noticed has either been neutral or negative.

The best thing I did recently was turn on 2-factor auth for Facebook. Now, because it's mildly annoying to log in, I haven't logged in in weeks. I still can, but I don't.

Facebook changed from an extremely high engagement niche product to a nearly free-of-utility product with the goal of capturing the entire planet as users.

2FA completely broke my habit of checking Facebook.

For other folks (like me) who weren't aware of this change (Ticker has been around since 2011): http://observer.com/2017/12/facebook-ticker-removed-news-fee...

> “We’re always listening to our community and working to make Facebook a personally relevant and real-time experience,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We’ve heard from people that News Feed is the best place to stay up to date with the people and Pages they follow, so we are removing Ticker.”

Reports of the ticker disappearing can be found over the past years. Presumably they've been doing A/B testing to figure out how many people actually use it, compared to the potential of using that space for something else.

For those (like me) who forgot what the ticker looked like on the web: https://techcrunch.com/2011/09/20/facebook-news-feed-gets-sm...

I've bookmarked "most recent" but have long since stopped trusting that it's a pure chronological feed. I don't know how Facebook decides what I do and don't want to see, but they don't get it right.

From what I've figured out, on top of your "top stories" feed, you might see something that's 15 or 16 hours old, while on "most recent" you'll see the almost exact same stories in newest-first order.

It varies upon user and friend activity. I just checked my "Top Stories" feed and the top post was from one of my best friends on Dec. 14 (3 days ago) and it wasn't even the most recent post/status update from her -- I assume it was placed highly because it got a decent amount of engagement (likes/comments). My "Most Recent" feed contains a few dozen posts/updates within the last hour.

Because you're not their customer — advertisers are.

I dont fully understand this statement -- I've reduced Facebook browsing 85% because of newsfeed changes in the past year (i only see a handful of people, and at times dont even see my wife's posts for some strange reason (NO she is NOT blocking me)).

How is it good for advertising that I dont use their product much anymore?

You sound like an exhausted resource

If I don't enjoy my experience, I use it less and their customers get less.

Users? You're the product. Advertisers are the users.

More typically than in response to someone saying "user," I see this in response to somebody erroneously saying "customer" or similar. I think "the user" is pretty valid, but "the used" makes for a good smirk.

There's only two industries that describe their customers as users: Software and drug dealers.

Yeah I got that wrong. I mixed up users with customers. Thank you for pointing it out.

God, I hate that phrase. I mean, I know that's the intended reason for it - to make it outrageous. But it's also stupidly incorrect. Facebook is not "producing" people who are using it, it is producing specific representation of data about their users. And I do not believe whatever data Facebook has can be considered equal to actual people.

Ahh there it is.

The worst thing about the Facebook feed is that it shows me the LIKES of my friends. I don't want to see their goddamn likes. I want to see their posts.

This is the one thing that made me so angry, especially during the election. I thought they were posting things onto their feed that was overly political, but then I realized all they were doing was liking things. It's not their fault.

Facebook needs to get rid of the Likes from my friends from my stream. It's the worst part of the feed and the least useful.

Seems it worked as intended during the elections. Next cycle they might have to come up with something else to reel you in.

if the value of FB is practically zero (you say "near"..) then just "delete"* your account.

*obviously FB would never allow that, but you can stop (or severely slow down) the firehose of information you are sending them by doing this.

It seems like "a good friend is in serious health trouble" warrants top billing on any feed.

I have had a lot of online friends, though not through Facebook, which I mostly don't use. But I can agree with this logic. I would also be horrified to learn that an internet friend had died or had been hospitalized without me getting the memo, even though they posted about it.

I think this is a reasonable assertion, regardless of what people here think about whether or not this was a "real" friendship.

This is something that's been on my mind as well, and I think an issue to take seriously by those at the levers.

A friend recently took his life, and his FB account was deleted so I can't verify anything, but I can't help but wonder. Was there anything he had posted that I didn't see, that could have told someone (me) how he felt? It was loneliness apparently, and took all by surprise - how much did Facebook play a role in that? I'd do anything to have been there for him - I'd be devastated if an algorithm had prioritized my alt-right classmate's latest infowars share over a quiet plea for help because it generated more engagement.

If it is any comfort, people who are suicidal typically have pretty serious problems, often including brain wonkiness.

I am sometimes suicidal. I have extremely good support. My adult sons don't leave me alone when I am suicidal, because most suicides occur while alone, so simply having company is a deterrent.

But they also don't bother to try to reason with me because I am not rational at such times. There is no convincing me that my warped perception of my life is completely unrealistic. Rebutting my crazy statements with facts to the contrary makes zero difference.

I'm sorry for your loss. And I agree that this is something social media has an obligation to do better on.

I appreciate the kind words. Yes, it's certainly not social media's sole fault, and as others have said down thread, there have always been other ways of keeping in touch. I certainly don't blame Facebook for not showing me anything that may have been posted - more, they're in a position to do so much good for the world, and I hope they can do that instead of optimizing for clicks.

I meant you shouldn't blame yourself. It is a very hard problem to solve.

Very much agreed on all counts. Thank you

I've noticed I barely get any responses on Facebook anymore unless my posts have pictures. They recently added a feature where you can add a big color background to your textual posts. My guess is that they're pushing users towards creating big flashy posts so that ads can blend in better with the stuff from your friends.

The Facebook feed has become an awful way for communicating with friends.

I dunno about other people, but I almost completely ignore those big background posts. I think my brain sees them as adverts/spam and just filters them out.

That style of post is reminiscent of Myspace. I will read a long text post and immediately skip those vapid 1 sentence "glittery"posts

Today I have published a post on my Facebook page. It was my two book recommendations of the books I've read in 2017. The covers were added as images to a post, and there were four paragraphs of text, first one explaining what I'm doing, second and third one a really short reviews of the books, and the fourth one asking my followers to recommend books in the comments. Knowing that it won't reach anyone, I have also purchased an ad (3 euros, one day), targeting fans of the page and their friends.

Organically, it reached 149 people (smaller posts reach 3-5x as much on average). It reached 1,471 by a paid promotion. Number of people who liked, commented, or even clicked to see all four paragraphs is 45.

My point is: you're a minority. And people who post like that get punished greatly by their algorithm. My ad was even postponed for like 30 minutes because images contained "too much text for an ad" until I clicked on "manual review" because I saw in their help pages that they let book covers slide.

My parent post was not referring to ads but short text posts with colorful backgrounds.

I have no issue with preview images and preview text even for ads. Although I wish Facebook accurately labeled them as ads

If you run FBP -- and I can't use Facebook without it now -- there's an option to remove the backgrounds and simply render them as text posts.

I've noticed this too. You also have to make sure there are words on the photo posts to get any engagement. Articles do all right too, but yes, I agree that people aren't engaging with just regular text and I often delete stuff and repost it figuring the posts are just getting screwed by the algorithm. Same with Instagram but in different ways.

Links seem to work well too.

I've had this experience a few times, when a friend has popped into mind and I looked them up only to find old posts eulogizing them. It adds an extra gut punch not being able to actually mourn with other people because you didn't find out in time.

The reality is that Facebook doesn't assume your Friends are your friends. It assumes you want to keep interacting with the same people you most recently interacted with. It also assumes you want to see things you're likely to Like or comment on. On the whole, this probably leads to them more reliably providing that dopamine hit when users check in, at the cost of being useful for actually staying in touch.

I guess it’s hard to run ads next to a post about a sick and dying friend.

“Flight deals to Portland!”

“Great hotel rates near the hospital! Act now!”

I doubt FB will change how their feed works because of this publicized incident. Perhaps Zuck will make a post about how they'll try and improve because they care about people.

I know a lot of people that work at Facebook and they're all highly intelligent. It's a great place to work at but incidents like this makes me question if their talent is all being put to good use.

The algorithm has definitely a lot more "machine" learning to do to prevent these incidents from happening again. Close friend, related to death and health, gofundme campaign all scream that the statuses should've been shown. (if FB can be so good at showing relevant ads, why can it show relevant feed)

I've never missed someone I'd consider even a distant friend passing via FB -- a few acquaintances, though I usually found out within a week.

That said, I have experienced FB hiding something bad in someone's life for an extended period -- a relative I'm not directly linked to passing, cancer diagnosis, someone's dog getting very sick and having to be euthanized, etc. Again, I found out, but not fast enough, even with friends that were in the second ring out from my very closest friends.

I have a question about Facebook, they seem to spend tremendous effort to create engagement. Arguably at the detriment to society.

Why are the ads so terribly targeted? They are an ad company with immense data collection and at the end of the day the ads are equivalent to a niche cable network

Facebook doesn't profit off of targeting things well. It profits off of selling high-value audiences and targeting options to advertisers. There's a significant difference between the two.

Let me be a bit more specific. You remember the weirdness of seeing ads for mesothelioma lawsuits on network TV? It seems way too specific to be worthwhile to advertise to general audiences. But that's missing how profitable each lead is - if a lead is worth a hundred times as much for mesothelioma as buying a Star Wars toy, you only need a hundredth of the audience interest in order for the ad slot to be price competitive.

Essentially, you're seeing the most valuable advertisement in the eyes of the advertiser, given the tracking and metrics that Facebook exposes to advertisers. It gets some weird effects, like getting tracked visiting the website of the coding bootcamp you graduated from, putting you in an "interested in coding bootcamps" category that Facebook sells to advertisers, getting you the least relevant ads possible.

All that data collection is a leaky abstraction. People share browsers, look up stuff they have no ongoing interest in out of one-time curiosity, buy something as a gift, search for something they actually hate to find something about it to say in a debate about it, buy tickets for a movie they don't want to see because their friends want to, click on something outside of their interests just because it went viral, etc.

And all that real world demographic data that gets bought and sold and tied to these online identities, it's not very accurate.

Because company [X] thinks the target for product [Y] is [Z].

That's my guess anyway. And I work in (and/or closely with) marketing.


Come to think of it, I want to elaborate on that.

Think about search engine optimisation. It's in a similar vein. "A guy walks into a bar, bars, pub, tavern, pulic house, irish pub, drinks, beer, acolhol, bar stool" etc.

My point is; people that are trying to sell 1 thing, might focus on reaching AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE, over focussing on getting the right (but smaller) audience.

That happened in the late 90's with online ads. It's just weird that Facebook is a juggernaut of data collection and hasn't been capable of doing anything new or better for targeting ads

Again, it's not Facebook. It's the companies using the platform.

Don't blame the tool. Blame the person wielding it.

So Facebook as an advertising company has not made a better tool?

I find the ads to be better targeted than any others that I have seen. It's actually the thing that impresses me the most about Facebook. I thought Google would be the ones to accurately target me, but they are often advertising JetBrains IDEA which I've been using for years.

Facebook often has local events, and small businesses advertising to me. That is more like the advertising that I want and I have actually clicked through and purchased from them.

Because ad targeting algorithms are limited by the data that's available to them. And most of the data they can get by watching your browsing habits produces terrible, near-useless signal, like a list of all the random bullshit you browsed to from sites like Buzzfeed. Or Facebook. Or Hacker News.

Because ad targeting is so the advertiser can show you want they want you to buy, rather than what you want to buy. No part of the process is oriented towards finding what you want and giving it to you. It’s for finding out who you are so they can exploit you.

I don't think that distinction is meaningful. The digital ad market is frighteningly sophisticated and coldly logical. You are shown ads for things that optimize what you're likely to buy/click multiplied by how much the ad buyer makes when someone actually does buy or click. Talk to anyone on the buy side of the ad market - these ads work. They really do show you the things that you want to buy, even if those things surprise you.

They work over what baseline? I think they are all treading water, and have to buy ads because competitors do.

They work in the sense that you can predictably purchase customers and users. I don't know what you mean by treading water. People who buy these ads do it because it's profitable, not because they trying to keep up with some competition.

How does the OP know that she actually peruses FB for all of her new feed's content?


> Now, I'm a meticulous FB feed peruser. I always set it to Most Recent and browse until I see the stuff I saw last time. I keep up.

Despite her claim here, it's possible that she missed her friend's post because her surveillance of her own feed is likely to be imperfect, especially if she has a non-trivial number of friends.

edit: I bring this up because, ostensibly, the whole point of FB's (or any social network's) "most important" algorithm is to mitigate the problem of how "most recent" can be too overwhelming to consume if you have a non-trivial number of friends. If OP has a lot of friends, such that there are a few dozen new items per day on her newsfeed, even if she were meticulously reading her feed, daily, there's no guarantee that she didn't miss the post because of imperfectly skimming them. That no one else in her social circle noticed isn't much proof since, as a mutual friend admits, they don't know how many of them are active on FB: https://twitter.com/FRENDEN/status/942918637576441857

That said, I swear I've seen FB's algorithm point out users who have posted for the first time in a long while. This kind of notification/signal presumably would not be part of a "Most Recent" timeline:


On another slightly related note, has anyone else noticed that Facebook will reset the feed's sort setting to "Top Stories" no matter how many times it's set to "Most Recent"?

Even when I enable "Most Recent", it doesn't show every post from all of my friends. There are posts that show up on "Top Stories" that don't show up on "Most Recent."

How does that make sense?

I just tried changing the feed sorting order to "Most Recent" and found that it only displays 4 posts. One post from a page I follow, one advertisement whose sponsor was liked by one of my friends, one post that links an article from one of my friends, and a series of posts on a friend's wall for their birthday.

At the bottom, it says "there are no more posts to show right now." If I change the sorting order back to "Top Stories", it shows far more posts and the first four are in the same order as the ones shown in the other sorting order.

Given that, I don't have much incentive to use the "Most Recent" sorting order it seems.

Seems to have been a common complaint over the years:



> In the desktop view of Facebook, there's an option to change from "Top Stories" to "Most Recent", but Facebook only maintains that setting for about 24 hours and then it automatically reverts back to Top Stories.

Could be their attempt to revise top news so you finally eventually stop going to most recent? It's like this: let's personalize your news

You: personalization is not accurate enough. Go back to most recent.

Computer: got it. Changing algorithm. Trying again.

I thought the "Most Recent" experience opts people completely out of the curated/algorithmic feed. Or is there still filtering on top?

So we've given our "Make sure my friends aren't dead" check to Facebook, and we're blaming Facebook? Isn't this our fault? Isn't the rational thing to take back the rights we've given to Facebook?

I am astounded that this comment is not receiving more upvotes and comments! I can't believe we are taking someone seriously for blaming Facebook for not telling them their friend has died. If you care about someone, call them, be present in their life every once in a while. Caring is a proactive act!

The key value proposition of facebook to me is that it makes those types of connections easier to scale up. Do I really need to call 200 people a month to see what they're up to and how they're doing? It's much better to have a constant feed of information that you can interact with as you can and want.

But it doesn't provide that value any more. It shows me ads and posts from a handle of the hundreds of people I'm friends with.

So you're right that caring is a proactive act, but that doesn't invalidate that initial value proposition at all.

I wish these social media sites just gave me everything in reverse chronological order and allowed me to fine tune the results..

If Facebook did this, people would stop using it pretty fast!

I wouldn't say people would stop, people would stop engaging as much but I'd still find it useful. I most often use facebook with `?sk=h_chr` query string to give me the content in reverse chronological simply because that makes sense to me most.

I would have thought a lower frequency of posting would be an indication of a greater weighting of the content when something was posted. Of course, as far as keeping eyeballs for a long time, that's not what keeps people on the feed. Maybe because those kind of posts are more likely to get people out of the feed and onto direct messaging instead? Rather than lots of stuff (reposts and shares) to scroll fast by and thus more space for ads to also scroll by.

That's a (self-admitted) assumption made by @Hellchick. The Facebook post in question could have been relegated off of feeds for a different reason.

What reason could that be? I thought maybe there was a way for a user to post something on their profile timeline that wouldn't show up in their newsfeed, but it appears that you can only do the opposite, i.e. post something that is seen in the newsfeed but won't be attached to your profile timeline: https://www.cnet.com/how-to/facebook-now-lets-you-post-to-th...

Before any comment about "real friends" keeping in touch outside the social media, the second tweet:

>A friend I've known mostly online for 15+ years died this weekend. Our friendship started on an old gaming forum, but continued on Facebook.

So you can't have 'real friends' that you met online? Hell, guess my wife is imaginary then, met her in 2005 online.

I think GP was saying that this story can be seen as evidence that a real friendship does not need face to face interaction to be valid.

I think the evidence in this post suggests that a real friendship needs to go beyond some curated communication system where some one else (or some algorithm) decides what you hear from each other. Otherwise you may miss significant events in each other's lives.

> curated communication system

yes. curated is the keyword.

fb used to be a legitimate communication system - you could write on walls, you could poke, you could do a lot of stuff with fb apps that solicits an immediate response.

fb today is not the fb of 2007. I know a lot of users grew up with fb but fb did not grow up with us.

You can meet them online, however, are they truly, honestly someone you care about if you don't ever contact them outside of facebook? Or wait passively for facebook posts to broadcast messages?

I assume that you met your wife in person before getting married - would you propose to her if the only way to contact and know her was through social media?

Who she didn't reach out to for months (years?) in any sort of personal way. They weren't friends, they were acquaintances, and it's not FB's responsibility to make sure she sees every update he sends out.

I have lifelong friends in meatspace that I don't talk to for months at a time as well. What make the online aspect any different?

Quick fix: don't rely on Facebook to be in touch with your friends.

Easier said than done.

To do it, you just have to try. Once you are off Facebook you are back to having a proactive experience towards friends instead of simply browsing feeds and clicking "Like!" icons.

From all the reasons to claim that "the Internet is broken", I think the worst is that most services today apparently do one thing; but in reality do a different one. And if you want it to do what "is supposed to do", it is extremely laborious, or literally impossible.

The facebook feed is one example.

Recent changes in google search, another.

I've always fantasized about people switching from FB to an easy-to-use RSS platform. Kinda like Mastodon, but bloggy/facebookey instead of a twitter clone, and obviously: chronological feeds.

I'm sorry for her loss.

Before social media how long would it have taken to find out this loose of a connection had passed away? My guess is months to years if ever.

Before social media people religiously read the local obituaries column in the local newspaper and called their friends if someone they both knew had died.

Families would call all the close contacts and relatives to make sure that they knew.

For several years after my father died in 1985 people called our house to speak to him. Most were not close acquaintances but some were still pretty shocked to hear of his death.

> Families would call all the close contacts and relatives to make sure that they knew.

I think people generally still do this? When my mother died a few years ago we took turns calling her relatives and close friends. We wanted them to hear the news verbally.

Before social media, when someone died, you went through your address book and called everyone you knew who knew that person. And everyone you called would do the same.

Before social media, you probably wouldn't have these distant connections to begin with because a lot of them are conceived in forums that just didn't have a parallel back in the day besides pen pals or someone you met at a conference once somewhere random.

> at a conference

Such a Hacker Newish assumption. In the so-called real world, most people travel for all sorts of other reasons than conferences.

The information was transmitted.

It was never received.

And therein lies the difference.

It was received though, right? I mean the person passed away this weekend, it’s now Monday and they know. It just didn’t happen in real time like the person expected hence the tweets.

Still much better than the obituary world of yesteryear. You could then also say the info was transmitted but the rate of receival probably low.

As far as I can tell this is a side effect of optimizing the algorithm to encourage greater usage by discouraging limited usage. Asking FB, Twitter etc. to do any different is the same as asking them to make less money.

You'd think that FB would want to pull "wayward" people in, though. If I haven't posted in a while, and then suddenly post, FB should give that post wider reach, with the hope that I get a lot of engagement, come away with a positive feeling, and then post/engage more.

I just did a sort of impromptu 2.5 month posting hiatus from FB (which also included no commenting or liking), and when I returned I got a ton of likes and comments on my fist couple posts.

The thing is, these places aren't monolithic. Real people work there and are making real decisions. There is more than enough room for Facebook to be reasonable and still have plenty of pie, it's just that employees need to actually make themselves heard or make the right decisions.

Why isn't there a setting that you can just choose to see everything in chronological order. That's fine if you want to default people to the algorithm feed. It's just such a simple thing to add.

Sorry for your loss but... Wake up! Facebook doesn't owe you the prioritization of information flow you wish. It's like TV: you must watch tons of crap, commercials etc. and often you miss important information...

Maybe FB doesn't, but the newsfeed display has significantly changed over the years, that expectation based on initial experience aren't matched anymore to the current format. For a significant portion of the user base, this seems to be detrimental to the experience, and one might argue to the engagement sought after by this company.

Think of facebook like an organism subject to evolutionary pressures. The evolutionary pressures that matter to facebook are maintaining "engagement" and through that ad revenue. Note that what matters to FB isn't engagement between you and your friends, just between you and it. So it doesn't matter to them how poor the algorithm is. The only thing that matters is how many minutes or hours a day you spend on the site.

A Facebook user who thinks Facebook is ment for keeping in touch?

I wonder how people can avoid noticing what Facebook has become after all this time and still use it.

Today I got an email from a female friend of mine who passed away 4 years ago. Apparently they used her facebook info (email, display name) with the subject being 'Fwd for 'my facebook display name' followed by terrible spam .. Ohhhhh how I long for the days that we weren't hooked on social media.

The irony is FB isn't a very good way for staying in touch with your friends, not when they suppress posts about the most important events going on in their lives. If that's the case then what's the point of social media? What function is actually being served?

Ads are being served and FB makes money from advertisers. It's good that some people are slowly starting to see that...

Blaming Facebook in this is really weird. You didn't know about it because you weren't really friends. You were acquainted, yes, but you didn't actually keep in touch. If it weren't for Facebook you'd never consider him a friend, just some guy you knew. I'm sorry this seems insesnsitive, but Facebook isn't reality, and it's a company trying to make money. It should be accountable for the damage it does for society, but it can't be accountable for the way we manage our friendships. That part is our responsibility as humans.

> If it weren't for Facebook you'd never consider him a friend, just some guy you knew.

If you re-read the post, this is inaccurate. The friendship began elsewhere.

>Facebook isn't reality, and it's a company trying to make money

It is a company whose value proposition (to non advertisers) is its being reflective of or enhancing reality. This as opposed to, say, warcraft.

>it can't be accountable for the way we manage our friendships

Managing friendships is exactly facebook's purpose. If it claims to be the best way to manage a friendship, and bad things happen as a result of presumptions the company makes in the course of managing said friendship, it's sane to associate facebook's tooling around friendship management with the actual management of friendships.

If I sign up for facebook under the pretense of "see what happens to my friends", and then sort by recency, if recent things that happen to my friends do not appear, that is, IMO, a legitimate grievance.

Facebook might not owe this user anything, but that doesn't mean they can't wish for better service. A person missed the death of their friend because they were second guessed by an algorithm that has gradually torn control from the hands of users and downgraded reality and chronology to foster "engagement". That sucks.

There is this principle that I always bring up when it comes to our interaction with the government, but it fits perfectly here too.

You might be able to give up control over something, but never the responsibility that comes with it. So in this particular case, we are free to let the algorithm decide for us, but we should all be aware who will suffer when the algorithm goes haywire. It's that simple.

> If you re-read the post, this is inaccurate. The friendship began elsewhere.

Yes, but it didn't begin in the real world(irl) either. Quoting the tweet: "Our friendship started on an old gaming forum,". I used to play WoW: do I keep up with any of my online friends now ? No. Why ? Because I moved on and found friends irl.

> It is a company whose value proposition (to non advertisers) is its being reflective of or enhancing reality. This as opposed to, say, warcraft.

You pay NOTHING for Facebook. Any value they claim to bring you is subject to their discretion. If you expect anything else, go to a different network. Oh wait - you can't, since social networks are only valuable if everyone is on them. And please do not bring open source software as a counter example: open source software exists because it is more rational for companies to use it by cooperating to share the cost of projects that would otherwise be too big for each of them to handle (and also independent open source project are done by people out of curiosity, and to allow them to stand out when searching for a job). So the FREE in FREE SOFTWARE is not the same as the FREE in FACEBOOK. Also, as you correctly noted, the value proposition of Facebook is to advertisers (and also shareholoders), so to use the annoying cliche, you are the PRODUCT, does the product get to have a say on how it's handled?

> Managing friendships is exactly facebook's purpose. If it claims to be the best way to manage a friendship, and bad things happen as a result of presumptions the company makes in the course of managing said friendship, it's sane to associate facebook's tooling around friendship management with the actual management of friendships.


Facebook's feed algorithms don't care about whether your friends die, they care about maximizing profits. If you care about your friends, you won't let that be managed by a stupid, free of charge piece of software, but you will call them regularly, or go meet them in person, so let's all be brutally honest not rationalise lack of empathy as failure due to external factors.

That's an extremely limited and dare I say outdated view of what constitutes a friend. One of my best friends I only see irregularly once a year at best, sometimes not for years, yet we always get on great when we see each other. That to me is a great friendship, that you know you'll always get along. I don't think it's your place to decide who someone views as a friend and how their relationship should look like.

OP clearly states he met the person online and they communicate online and that might involve irregular but deep, friendly exchanges and meeting up once in a while. I.e. exactly a kind of communication Facebook is supposed to facilitate, yet it completely failed him here which is absolutely valid to criticize and call out.

This is very rude. You're telling someone that her (deceased) friend is not really a friend because of the medium they used to communicate.

She knows better than us whether they were friends or not.

If they used any medium to communicate then they would have noticed that the other side doesn't respond any more. Or do we count likes as communication?

Facebook is a medium by any definition. OP said they kept in touch via comments, a more modern form of SMS or even letters.

This whole X is realer than computers is silly to me.

Messenger and other IM apps are the more modern form of SMS or letters. Facebook and Twitter are broadcasting mediums.

This is wrong, on so, so, so many levels. Yes, I get that the best way to maintain relationships is in meatspace, but this isn't really possible anymore. People move, meet online, etc... This doesn't mean they stop being friends. Their relationships might weaken, but you don't get degraded to "just an acquaintance" because of this. At the age of 18, I had already lived in 4 countries (France, Canada, US, UK) for a minimum period of 2 years. I still keep up with old friends, but this only happens online because meatspace is kind of getting in the way with us actually talking.

Furthermore, Facebook is totally to blame here. For most users, the whole point of their service is to keep in touch with others. That Facebook failed to tell the user of something as important as the hospitalization and death of a dear friend is a clear red flag: Facebook's algorithms are failing. Sure, you can also blame the user for using the "wrong medium", leaving communication to a for-profit company. But then what's the lesson here ? That you should only talk to people in meatspace ? Well, I guess we're not living in the same reality here.

The lesson is to use Whatsapp or Email.

Sure, Whatsapp is owned by Facebook but you can send messages to each other and see their response pushed to your phone. It doesn't have an algorithm choosing not to show their messages sometimes.

I think it is not as binary as this. I too have friends that I do not see often, but what makes them friends to me is that no matter for how long we do not meet, as soon as we meet our relationship is the same as the last time we met.

Friends are not always those who you meet every day, but those that give you the feeling of happiness when you have them around, at least for me.

Please just re-read your comment replacing Facebook with either your phone service or email service or USPS. What you said applies to all these three. People are complaining because Facebook gives the perception of connecting people but fails without notifying.

I'll answer here but it's relevant to most comments I got. True, we can have friendships which are not in meatspace as someone said here. And it's also true that even people you don't meet much could be meaningful friends. It's also true that Facebook presents it's self as a social network for connecting with our friends and this.might be seen as a failure in that respect. All that said, Facebook is a product, as a user you have the responsibility to use it wisely considering it's obvious limititations (i.e. nothing is perfect). If we consider we (the users) and Facebook to be in a customer-provider relationship , then they failed. But not morally, just professionaly, meaning, they provided a not perfect product. I just dont think we as users are Facebook's customers, we are the product. Even if we were, I still think the overall responsibility for our relationship with our friends is ours. I think what irked me the most was the use of this Facebook-algorithms-hurts-society template when it really isn't appropriate. No algorithms wouldn't change the outcome of this event. Without Facebook OP would still don't know about her friend's condition in real time,ormaybe at all. Usually this template is used to show effects of Facebook's algorithms on society that would never have happened if not for it's algorithms tuned for profit. If anything, this mindset that finds blame in Facebook s algorithms for an unfortunate but non novel event, is a much more interesting social effect. Meaning, the total natural delgation of responsibility to a company that uses you as product is pretty mind-blowing.

They were counting on Facebook to bring to them updates from someone that was important to them. Yes, it's their fault for giving away that responsibility in the first place, but it doesn't seem right to say that they weren't friends.

I was quite un-cooly positive about Facebook for the first 15 years or so, but recently it has become extremely apparent that the algorithms are getting in the way of what I'm trying to do (communicate with a predictable set of friends).

I had a similar experience a few years ago.


Advertisers don't want to put their ads next to a post about someone dying.

^ this.

Utterly ridiculous. The feed cannot show every possible post, otherwise it would be a mess rather than a feed.

I really dislike Facebook, but blaming it in this case doesn't even make sense.

This is in line with my Facebook experience. I only post every few weeks on FB, sometimes only every few months. And FB treats me as a second class citizen. My posts often don't even appear in the default feed of my friends.

They do appear when my friends switch to 'Most Recent'. But most recent is pretty much unbearable for friends with many friends because it shows every tiny thing like 'Mike is interested in an event' and stuff.

One of many reasons you shouldn't depend on algorithms or facebook to keep you informed and aware of anything, let alone life and death issues. The unwillingness and/or inability for people to access, process and understand information is endemic in our society and one of the core reasons we are in such bad shape on so many levels.

This post reeks of entitlement. The time the author spent writing this would have been better spent actively cultivating another relationship than complaining that something didn’t perfectly spoonfeed them life experiences.

People shouldn't rely on these services for anything important. FB is primarily ad serving business and entertainment website. It doesn't make our life better, it also takes away our time and reduces productivity. :(

Very sorry for her loss as well.. and her pain in not knowing...

It's interesting from a social science perspective to have the expectation of the system / algorithms that it would have notified you of a friend's passing. This is an expectation that the model understands what is important to the user - something I doubt the model is optimized around completely.

Before Facebook, I think not knowing would be even more common than we realize - unless you had frequent contact with your friend. In a world disconnected, no email, no Internet, maybe only a telephone, or even further back, a telegram, or even less - it might be many, many times much less likely you would find such a thing out. Going back to the times of villages with no electronic technology at all, communication would have been only through immediate knowledge, written / recorded information or word of mouth.

I used to work for a website that tried to digitize obituaries, to serve as a replacement for the newspaper, way before that was really a "thing". It never really took off, because, the people who wanted to publish death notices in newspapers just kept doing that. Most people who wanted to read them preferred holding a newspaper than reading a website (although, it did help disseminate information quickly). Eventually, newspapers simply published the obituaries and death notices online themselves, and it all went to a big aggregator of obituary postings (or got indexed by Google), and then it was no longer much of a thing.

The most interesting thing, for me, having worked in this area, was seeing how users have taken to Facebook as a sort of memorial to those who have passed, help spread the news, etc. But with the conflux of marketing and so much personal news... I'm not surprised that this information slipped through the cracks.

I recall a book on this topic - "Bowling Alone"[1] published in 2001, before social networks. The excerpt from Amazon.com -

"Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work—but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified in this brilliant volume, which The Economist hailed as 'a prodigious achievement.'

Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans’ changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures—whether they be PTA, church, or political parties—have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm that these broken bonds have wreaked on our physical and civic health, nor had anyone exalted their fundamental power in creating a society that is happy, healthy, and safe.

Like defining works from the past, such as The Lonely Crowd and The Affluent Society, and like the works of C. Wright Mills and Betty Friedan, Putnam’s Bowling Alone has identified a central crisis at the heart of our society and suggests what we can do."

Even with Facebook/social media, I wonder if the same thing is still true, or if we have begun to heal the broken bonds of our disconnected nature the book identified.

[1] ISBN-10: 0743203046

I'm thinking about this as less of a newsfeed thing and more as pub/sub maybe being a bad model for keeping in touch with friends. Especially when it's curated pub/sub.

I posted this article on Facebook and received 0 responses. My wife, who has me in "close friends" and on "show first" frequently misses my posts.

Hopefully posts like these encourage us to reach out to our friends in actual real life way, not just through social media likes or mentions

Algorithms can have their downside.

Sometimes I miss some important emails just because the emails are classified as spam and moved into spam folder.

That is not the same. You can always check the Spam folder. But you can't see posts which FB decided not to show you!

A little birdy told me you can see tweets chronologically in lists. I've yet to try it out though.

One day FB will say AI has taken over the algorithms without anyone's notice!

> All because FB's algorithm presumably decided that he didn't post much, so he didn't warrant enough attention in our feeds.

All because you've given Facebook responsibility for keeping in touch.

One suggestion for keeping in control and in touch: a less algorithmic address list in email.

"Oh, but I don't want to manage that."

Well, how good is what you're using now working? Is that chance of someone outside the list serendipitously stumbling across a post really that valuable?

And, sorry for her loss.

Look, I don't like Facebook. I reluctantly caved because there was too much going on there that I was missing, but I'd rather not be a participant.

But you're ignoring the fact that Facebook is effectively the first opportunity in history for a universal "push" mechanism for friendship.

If your best friend died, would you really know how to contact everyone he/she was friends with? You could dig through their Rolodex in the old days, which would cover some percentage but also pick up a lot of outdated contact information and business relationships with no friendship involved; you could send email to everyone you could find in their mailbox, but that surely wouldn't hit everyone; you could dial all phone numbers in their phone, but same problem.

And obituaries are pull-based, and tend to be localized.

FB, for better or worse, has the potential to be the most effective way in the history of mankind to tell everyone who knew someone that person has passed on.

>If your best friend died, would you really know how to contact everyone he/she was friends with?

If my best friend died I would be notified immediately by at least three people. If I weren't (I would be) I would know something was wrong as soon as he stopped responding to my text messages/calls.

That's because we're actual friends and are actually involved in each other's lives. His wife knows me, his mother and father know me, his children know me. The people you're describing are not in any way best friends.

I didn't say everyone you were friends with are "best" friends. Nor am I trying to redefine friendship as "Facebook friends." And I wish people would read what I wrote, not what they think about Facebook.

>I didn't say everyone you were friends with are "best" friends.

Where did I imply that? I literally responded to:

>If your best friend died, would you really know how to contact everyone he/she was friends with?

>Nor am I trying to redefine friendship as "Facebook friends." And I wish people would read what I wrote, not what they think about Facebook.

Yeah, didn't say that either. I wish people would read what I wrote too.

It's just absolutely 99% ridiculous to believe that _facebook_ would be the way you'd likely be notified that your "best friend" (your words) died. A true friend, let alone a _best_ friend, is someone whose life you're involved in at a deeper level than FB.

I left 1% for situations like elderly people who have been friends for decades and live half a world away from each other.

Look at the question you originally quoted:

> If your best friend died, would you really know how to contact everyone he/she was friends with?

How did you make the leap to:

> It's just absolutely 99% ridiculous to believe that _facebook_ would be the way you'd likely be notified that your "best friend" (your words) died.

I didn't say: "I want to find out my best friend died via Facebook." My question was meant to imply: "I don't know how to find everyone my best friend considers his friends, but his Facebook friends list is an improper superset of that list"

> But you're ignoring the fact that Facebook is effectively the first opportunity in history for a universal "push" mechanism for friendship.

Only because it has defined downwards the entire concept of friendship.

I don't disagree that it has redefined "friendship" in a negative way, but that's irrelevant.

How would all of your genuine friends find out you've died, if they are widely dispersed and to various degrees ignorant of each other?

The same way they did before social media became a thing, presumably. More pertinent is how you can now have a what’s considered a genuine friendship entirely by interacting with someone on fb.

No it hasn't. You don't have to accept anybody as a friend on Facebook.

The way you've framed the situation, IMHO, really speaks to the difficulty of FB trying to find a universal usecase that is applicable or satisfactory to everyone and to every kind of social relationship.

You posit that FB could be the "most effective way in the history of mankind to tell everyone who knew someone that person has passed on". Sure, but why stop at death? FB could also be the most effective way to tell every mutual friend when your best friend:

- Has a child

- Gets married

- Gets a new job

- Has a death in the family

- Loses their job

- Gets divorced

- Seems to be depressed right now.

The fact that FB has been highly-effective push notification has been key to its success but also one of the things that sometimes bothers people when it comes to privacy and other issues. You might argue that death presents a special case -- and I would generally agree -- but I would most definitely argue that significant parts of FB's userbase (which consists of basically every country and subculture) would disagree. FB's tweaking of things so that death is pushed as a priority would not make everyone happy, and every tweak means that something else gets untweaked, of course.

That said, it's worth pointing out that FB has recognized its potential to be a new kind of obituary/memorial service, and all of the complications and downsides of that. Here's a pretty good whitepaper on the difficulties: https://research.fb.com/publications/legacy-contact-designin...

I haven't been on FB for most of the past decade. I regularly ask friends, "Oh, did you see so-and-so got married?"

Inevitably, they know that because they are FB friends, but really met through me.

I wonder if we lose something because the connection between Person A-B-C is weakened. Person C is presented info by Facebook, instead of through the original connection. Denies neurons a chance to fire together and cross-associate.

IMHO, this sounds like you're jealous that your friends A and C have a way of communicating (and keeping apprised of each others' situations better than you're able) that bypasses you. It's your choice to remain uninvolved (and I actually respect that quite a lot), but you can't reasonably be annoyed that others who are involved in it bypass you.

I don't think this is the case, but I can see how it's an appealing interpretation. I do experience a brief moment of annoyance, but it feels more like an annoyance that we lost an opportunity to reminisce and re-connect over a mutual friend. The call and response of "did you see this?" and "Yes." stops the conversation more than if they respond with "no", and we can relate over a story.

I sometimes worry that, after doing everything I can while living to avoid using Facebook and/or supporting their business model in any way, someone might throw that all away on my behalf if something were to happen to me.

I'd see an announcement of my death on Facebook as an insult, as my death would essentially be creating engagement/ad impressions/clicks for Facebook.

> I'd see an announcement of my death on Facebook as an insult, as my death would essentially be creating engagement/ad impressions/clicks for Facebook.

That's an odd way of seeing it considering that paid obituaries, in Newspapers, have been a thing for quite a while. The family pays the newspaper for the obituary, the newspaper sells advertisement space and then even asks people to pay for that whole package.

Compared to that, the Facebook version at least feels only like half a rip-off because your family wouldn't have to pay for it being posted and others wouldn't have to pay to read it.

Hmmm... I like your point but disagree a bit. The obituary thing, is something from the past, from a time where advertisement was not that pervasive. Also, it's not much used anymore (at least in my country). So I'd say the obituary in newspaper is not quite comparable to FB. FB is based on advertisement and on social information commercial exploitation. So I'd consider an obituary on FB to be more of a problem than on newspaper.

But, I suppose that if I die today, someone will post something on facebook (statistically, at least one of the person I know should use it for that; although I totally condemn FB (FB, not the social network thing))

> Also, it's not much used anymore (at least in my country).

In Germany, at least, they are still very popular. Working at an ambulant palliative service, one of my colleagues checks the local newspapers each morning, over the years it's happened quite a few times that we found out about one of our patients passing away from the obituary in the newspaper before we got a notice from the family or the acting physician.

> FB is based on advertisement and on social information commercial exploitation.

So are pretty much the majority of newspapers at this point, just because Facebook is better at the social information exploitation angle doesn't turn them into an entirely different beast, as I'm pretty sure newspapers are equally busy trying to categorize their customers for better ad impressions, their databases just ain't remotely as big and detailed as those of Facebook.

From a practical perspective, I'd still prefer a free obituary to a paid one anytime. Sure, it might not be completely free, as you are paying with personal information, it's at least more free than "Pay for the obituary, pay for the newspaper and then still look at advertisements".

The best solution would probably something like Facebook that doesn't finance itself through the commercialization of its user's data. I wonder how viable an approach like the original WhatsApp one (subscription services with very small fees) would work for a social media platform at the scale of Facebook?

Then don't have someone tell Facebook you died. Nobody would know if you don't think they shouldn't know.

It would be kind of hard to prevent people from posting something about my death on Facebook, unless I figured out a some way to temporarily re-animate myself.

I know a lot of people. Many of those people unfortunately use Facebook. There's a good chance that at least one of them will be posting something about it, regardless of my wishes.

> But you're ignoring the fact that Facebook is effectively the first opportunity in history for a universal "push" mechanism for friendship.

Not really. Actual "social networks" have done that for millenia. They even include a much smarter filtering system than Facebook's: unimportant information dies out quickly, and people are told or not told about events based on human judgment. Ah, well... this is what we have now.

I don't think we had friends halfway across the globe back then. And if you did, you might not hear about them dying for months.

We can now build social "networks" which are much less locality based, and where your friends aren't necessarily friends with each other. And that's good.

It does mean that you've got less redundancy in the system though. Which is why it's not unreasonable to use new tools like facebook to keep up to date with people.

I can’t imagine a group of people and less trust and want to manage my relationships at that level than the people who run Facebook. If I’m being honest I can’t think of a third-party I’d like to relegate that responsibility to, not that I think it should be relegated, it is after all central to the process of maintaining friendships. Maybe the “friendship“ people think they have online is something other than what is traditionally been thought of as friendship.

When you die, how effective are you going to be at telling everyone you consider your friends that you've passed on?

Do you have an email list right now that someone could use to share that news and hit 100% of your friends?

The nature of "Facebook friendship" as it pertains to real friendship is orthogonal and irrelevant to this question: in a world where genuine friendship spans continents and social circles, how do you notify everyone who cares that someone has died?

The people who matter would know because they are involved in your life. Everyone else is just someone you used to know. Let's not up and change the definition of 'friend' to someone you haven't seen or spoken to personally in years but resides in your FB friends list.

My definition of friendship includes people I haven't interacted with in years, and that definition long predates my involvement with Facebook.

Most of my friends aren't actually "friends" on Facebook.

Anyway, it's clear that people are thinking I'm an advocate for the Facebook definition of friendship, which is in no way what I wrote, but whatever.

When you die, how effective are you going to be at telling everyone you consider your friends that you've passed on? Do you have an email list right now that someone could use to share that news and hit 100% of your friends?

Yes, and my next of kin has a clearly written set of instructions to follow in that event. Plus I don’t have hundreds of “friends” defined by algorithms, just friends who would rapidly miss me and inquire as to why I vanished. It’s the kind of thing you consider when dealing with actual people, and not just text you’ve read to yourself and attributed to a set of imaginings you call your “FB Friend” and which may or may not bear any particular relationship to the real person.

> All because you've given Facebook responsibility for keeping in touch.

Because let's face it: In this day and age it's the most practical way to do so. It's the one place where you can aggregate all your personal relationships from different "communities" you interact with.

> One suggestion for keeping in control and in touch: a less algorithmic address list in email.

"I don't want to manage that" is a legitimate excuse in this case, just like it's a bit dishonest to compare "writing emails" with what social media does.

There's value to be had here, helping people connect with each other, in easy and obvious ways, is a noble goal. I don't want to explain to my grandparents how to manage mailing lists, but I'd still love for them to partake in the "digital happenings" of friends and family.

In that regard, social media also serves the function of a public diary for many people, giving opportunities to share and appreciate. That's a need that shouldn't be underestimated, but it most certainly could be facilitated in a better way than with this sole focus on commercialization through advertisement.

Facebook sells itself as the tool for keeping in touch. If it sells itself as the tool to sell you stuff, how many users would there be?

Facebook it a tool to sell you stuff..

How many users does Amazon have?

Are you suggesting having a friends mailing list? That doesn't really work for a dynamic pool of people.

It kind of says a lot for the influence of Facebook where suggesting that perhaps you shoot an email to a friend seems like an impractical thing to do.

The suggestion was not to shoot an email to a friend. It was for continuously maintaining "an address list in email".

It's nothing to do with "the influence of Facebook", it's to do with progress in usability and use case.

If you just want to send a message to a friend then there are a myriad of ways to do that which neither involve email nor Facebook.

If you boil it down to why people actually use Facebook, then Facebook is nothing but a fancier and comfortable version of "keeping a list of emails", just with very nasty side-effects.

Heaven forfend suggesting making a phone call, which is how I keep in touch with friends. Real friends, that is.

Are they real friends though if you only talk to them on the phone? I keep in touch with my friends in person by going to their door and knocking. Real friends that is.

Pshaw. I use a psychic connection. If you can't contact them psychically, how close are you really?

Friends since the 80s, have kept in touch all that time, live >1000 miles away. Real friends are those people with whom you can be yourself, who understand what you don't say as well as they understand what you do say.

Well my real friends live 1500 miles away, so yeah, phone it is.

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