Facebook news feed, what are we being fed?

Another year, another Facebook algorithm update, again shifting what your scrolling thumb or mouse will pull up next from the bottomless, mysterious pit of your news feed. 

In a Facebook post earlier this month, founder Mark Zuckerberg said the company was rewiring their platform to “encourage meaningful social interactions with family and friends over passive consumption.”

Essentially, it’s getting more personal. What your friends and family post about will take priority over content from brands or news organisations, like us. 

Mr Zuckerberg preached that using social media to connect with loved ones can actually be good for our well-being, make us less lonely and even help with long term happiness and health.

But is this all happening because the team at Facebook want us to become better friends with each other, or because it adds more to their back pocket? 

Forgive me for finding it a little hard to believe that a global company fueled by advertising holds the quality of it’s users’ relationships close to its heart. 

Facebook is a business that relies on the behavior of each of us to appeal to advertisers to make money.

As the saying goes, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

So maybe this will be clearer if we understand what Facebook wants to avoid: Passive consumption. 

Passive consumption is looking or reading a post without liking or commenting on it. Passive consumption does not generate more content. Passive consumption does not get users hooked on using Facebook.

What does get people hooked on Facebook is what the company’s estranged founding president Sean Parker calls a “social-validation feedback loop.” 

When someone likes or comments on your post, you get a little dopamine hit. The founding fathers of Facebook discovered this made people spend more time on their news feed, post more onto it and get more likes and comments, setting off a vicious cycle that preys on a vulnerability in human psychology. 

Behaviour that drives the “social-validation feedback loop” – that is, bouncing likes and comments between each other – is far more likely to happen between you and a friend than between you and a brand or news organisation. 

You’re not a user, you’re just used.