What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects.
This may be one of the must read articles of the year. It describes just a small microcosm of what is happening on the internet that needs to be fixed. It seems innocuous, but it’s long term effects will be painful.
I think this fits the definition of a Weapon of Math Destruction.
Rebecca Porter and I were strangers, as far as I knew. Facebook, however, thought we might be connected. Her name popped up this summer on my list of “People You May Know,” the social network’s roster of potential new online friends for me.
Unconditional love means unconditional likes. At least, that’s how it works with Chris Aldrich’s mom, who “auto-likes” everything he posts to Facebook. Family pictures? Like! A blog post titled “A New Low in Quantum Mechanics?” Like!
How I temporarily cut my mom out of my social media life to reach a larger audience.
For quite a while now, I’ve been publishing most of my content to my personal website first and syndicating copies of it to social media silos like Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook. Within the Indieweb community this process is known as POSSE an acronym for Post on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.
The Facebook Algorithm
Anecdotally most in social media have long known that doing this type of workflow causes your content to be treated like a second class citizen, particularly on Facebook which greatly prefers that users post to it manually or using one of its own apps rather than via API.  This means that the Facebook algorithm that decides how big an audience a piece of content receives, dings posts which aren’t posted manually within their system. Simply put, if you don’t post it manually within Facebook, not as many people are going to see it.
Generally I don’t care too much about this posting “tax” and happily use a plugin called Social Media Network Auto Poster (aka SNAP) to syndicate my content from my WordPress site to up to half a dozen social silos.
What I have been noticing over the past six or more months is an even more insidious tax being paid for posting to Facebook. I call it “The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem”.
Here’s what’s happening
I write my content on my own personal site. I automatically syndicate it to Facebook. My mom, who seems to be on Facebook 24/7, immediately clicks “like” on the post. The Facebook algorithm immediately thinks that because my mom liked it, it must be a family related piece of content–even if it’s obviously about theoretical math, a subject in which my mom has no interest or knowledge. (My mom has about 180 friends on Facebook; 45 of them overlap with mine and the vast majority of those are close family members).
The algorithm narrows the presentation of the content down to very close family. Then my mom’s sister sees it and clicks “like” moments later. Now Facebook’s algorithm has created a self-fulfilling prophesy and further narrows the audience of my post. As a result, my post gets no further exposure on Facebook other than perhaps five people–the circle of family that overlaps in all three of our social graphs. Naturally, none of these people love me enough to click “like” on random technical things I think are cool. I certainly couldn’t blame them for not liking these arcane topics, but shame on Facebook for torturing them for the exposure when I was originally targeting maybe 10 other colleagues to begin with.
This would all be okay if the actual content was what Facebook was predicting it was, but 99% of the time, it’s not the case. In general I tend to post about math, science, and other random technical subjects. I rarely post about closely personal things which are of great interest to my close family members. These kinds of things are ones which I would relay to them via phone or in person and not post about publicly.
Posts only a mother could love
I can post about arcane areas like Lie algebras or statistical thermodynamics, and my mom, because she’s my mom, will like all of it–whether or not she understands what I’m talking about or not. And isn’t this what moms do?! What they’re supposed to do? Of course it is!
mom-autolike (n.)–When a mother automatically clicks “like” on a piece of content posted to social media by one of their children, not because it has any inherent value, but simply because the content came from their child.
She’s my mom, she’s supposed to love me unconditionally this way!
The problem is: Facebook, despite the fact that they know she’s my mom, doesn’t take this fact into account in their algorithm.
What does this mean? It means either I quit posting to Facebook, or I game the system to prevent these mom-autolikes.
I’ve been experimenting. But how?
Facebook allows users to specifically target their audience in a highly granular fashion from the entire public to one’s circle of “friends” all the way down to even one or two specific people. Even better, they’ll let you target pre-defined circles of friends and even exclude specific people. So this is typically what I’ve been doing to end-around my Facebook Algorithm Mom problem. I have my site up set to post to either “Friends except mom” or “Public except mom”. (Sometimes I exclude my aunt just for good measure.) This means that my mom now can’t see my posts when I publish them!
What a horrible son
Don’t jump the gun too quickly there Bubbe! I come back at the end of the day after the algorithm has run its course and my post has foreseeably reached all of the audience it’s likely to get. At that point, I change the audience of the post to completely “Public”.
You’ll never guess what happens next…
Yup. My mom “likes” it!
I love you mom. Thanks for all your unconditional love and support!!
Even better, I’m happy to report that generally the intended audience which I wanted to see the post actually sees it. Mom just gets to see it a bit later.
Dear Facebook Engineering
Could you fix this algorithm problem please? I’m sure I’m not the only son or daughter to suffer from it.
Have you noticed this problem yourself? I’d love to hear from others who’ve seen a similar effect and love their mothers (or other close loved ones) enough to not cut them out of their Facebook lives.