Facebook algorithms have encouraged communities but ruined relationships

Social media has for many years built its business on our relationships and lives.

An online social media and social networking service that we all use.

It is necessary to expose the murky history of moderation, and the secret rules of the internet, since its growing popularity in the 1990s.

The ever-changing nature of society, social media and technology have forced companies such as Facebook to make much-needed improvements and adaptations to their current infrastructure. As a result, it has altered the logic and the purpose of these social media tools and platforms.

Social networks still remain as one of the most debated and misinformed phenomenon’s and institutions. It has induced consequences and shapes the way society has been perceived and reformed today. Particularly amongst communities of subcultures and misfits.

One of the great debates about the internet is what it is doing to the relationships that British people have with their family, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues. Social media algorithms have created echo chambers with certain communities. For instance, the Liberal and Brexit vote. It has prevented some new conversations and dismissed differing (alternative) ones.

Unfortunately, power derives from the interaction of social currents and technical accordances. Mark Zuckerberg has used certain politics, insecurities, and financial interests to structure a noosphere (atmosphere), that is pigeon-holing us into a way of thinking when we are a multidimensional people. Unlike sentient algorithms of our sci-fi fever dreams, the intelligence behind Facebook is fundamentally a human.

Mark Zuckerburg, Founder of Facebook.

Theoretically, as a human creation, technology cannot exist as some entity “separate” from society and will always be a natural extension of ourselves. By some methods of quantifying intelligence, each individual in the western world is now smarter and more capable than ever to live beyond the sphere and community of social media, is this because of algorithms?

Originally, algorithms just maintained a mathematical process that ranked and calculated things. Now, more broadly speaking, algorithms are a fundamental part of most data management systems and social media platforms, composed with small sets of operations, and predictions that work much quicker than our human brain or reason. Does this mean there is no real capacity for algorithms to truly reflect the evolution of society? The efficiency of algorithms is very important.

Algorithms have reduced human beings to a set of data. Individual character, friendships, language and sensibility has become a transcendent experience. Many of us turn in disgust from what we consider to be an overinflated conservative and liberal-bourgeois society. Yet our denuded networks do not look any freer, they are just as owned, manipulated and dominated, especially on Twitter. For instance, #BlackTwitter and its politics. Could the reason go back to a complex and somewhat mysterious interplay between the platforms’ designs and our own choice to be amongst our own?

The average user has access to more than 1,500 posts per day but only tends to look at 300. Facebook, as a platform, uses filter bubbles to determine who we interact with, or who appears on our timelines. The results of this automated ranking process shape the social lives we believe we are in control of and has proved that it knows the things we care about most in our lives, both online and offline.

While there is an underbelly of humour, Elizabeth Bernstein explores how this new form and judgement of communication (algorithms) may be affecting the quality of our relationships. She raises a range of questions that point to algorithms encouraging more communities but are ruining more of our relationships. For instance, amidst all this heightened chatter, we are not saying much. Rather, we are breaking a cardinal rule of companionship. Moreover, Facebook also only allows us to acknowledge, and positively reward people when something interesting or new occurs in their life (e.g. marriage). Nevertheless, Bernstein provides a refutation admitting something positive about Facebook early in her article.

What we tend to do when we are with our friends and family.

Social media users are unaware or completely clueless about the algorithms being used to build, filter and customize their feeds, and manipulate their relationships with people. These platforms construct our experiences; pushing certain posts into our stream and leaving others out.

67% of people said that Facebook algorithms have encouraged communities, but ruined relationships. Whilst only 33% said maybe, leaving a shocking 0% of people implying that Facebook algorithms may not have ruined our relationships with friends, family and work colleagues.

Without any understanding of Facebook’s algorithm, or even how it works, people are left uneducated, misinformed and misled. They blame themselves and not Facebook’s software, and resort to developing their own theories for why their social lives have changed over time. For instance, missing friends’ stories because you were scrolling too quickly or visiting Facebook too infrequently. Furthermore, others presume that their friends have stopped sharing posts with them when in fact, they have just taken a social media break. Many presumptions have been made in regards to social media’s emotion experiment, and intrusion.

On the other hand, Facebook algorithms could be deemed beneficial and pertinent. For those who have from time to time believed that their feed is filled with people they no longer care for, communicate with or even know, would appreciate why Facebook is pushing to further the art of artificial intelligence and changes. Also, many people have been able to connect with past friendships and see what is going on with people in their life.

However, in its current form, the social network is still far better at collecting vast amounts of data than understanding what all the data means. Perhaps an advanced AI could help place emphasis on the people who are present in your life, and truly relevant to you. Though for this to come to fruition, Facebook will do all it can to keep you on the service for longer periods of time and boost your attractiveness as a subject for targeted advertising.

Algorithms will continue to spread everywhere. The great advantages of algorithms are already changing how connected institutions and people live and work. A significant majority expects them to continue to proliferate, mostly invisible (as they are operating now) and expects that there will be an exponential rise in their influence. Though, those who believe this, have acknowledged that the development of algorithms will bring many benefits and some challenges.

Still, our generation’s social media obsession does not allow for an organic boost and development in relationships. Facebook has a monstrous 1.65 million active users and remains as the most used social media site amongst all ages and generations. It also accounts for one in every six minutes spent online. Essentially, algorithms have excused our laziness and built communities around it instead.

It is important to state how Facebook’s algorithms are consistently growing. The company’s techniques and methods are continually being tweaked to encourage engagement and promote new features. Up until a couple of years ago, Facebook used the friend algorithm called EdgeRank, which considered three factors that determined the social proximity (rank), affinity (the score between the viewing user and the edge creator), weight (the weight for this edge type i.e. comment, like, etc.) and decay of a user (the decay factor is based on how long ago the edge was created): how much you interact, what kind of interactions, and how long ago.

However, the current algorithm uses a more complex formula that “…uses machine learning, and takes thousands of data points into account to determine people’s social proximity.” Yet if we assume that the basic construction is the same, the algorithm is very likely to weigh up various types of interactions differently. For instance, being tagged with someone in a photo or attending the same event could be inferred as a better indicator that you are close to or familiar with someone, rather than merely liking a news story they shared or commenting on a wall post.

Facebook tracks and records everything we do when using it. Perhaps if we took some time to browse through, we could identify all the minor interactions we may forget, and probably begin to gauge understanding when thinking about how algorithms rank our friends on Facebook. It may also give context to the “random” friends that appear on our feeds, instant messengers or profile pages. Algorithms are intentional and purpose led, so don’t be fooled.

Facebook algorithms have encouraged communities and ruined many relationships. Algorithms could be deemed the new face of friendship or maybe its death. What would change if we were required to commit to the emotional work required to stay involved with “real” friends? Facebook algorithms have made relationships convenient, and in some way shallow because it vouches for brief but genuinely meaningful contact with the people we say we care about. Does it matter on which our relationships blossom, and are found on? Innovation in storytelling and technology is our amour propre, but let’s not elude the foundation of our relationships in all its splendour.