A viral rumor about Facebook's algorithm is bogus — and there's nobody better to quash the spread of hoaxes than its own users, Data Doctors' Ken Colburn explains.
Q: Is Facebook’s algorithm really limiting my news feed to 26 people?
A: A hoax message claiming that Facebook is limiting your news feed to just 25 or 26 friends is in heavy circulation once again, because so many people don’t take a minute to fact-check things before they repost.
Simply trusting whatever friends are posting is why hoaxes and fake news are so easily spread on social media.
Consider your reach
Most users haven’t stopped to consider the powerful echo chamber that their personal Facebook account can become. The average Facebook user has an average of 338 friends, which means misguided posts can snowball pretty quickly.
If each of your 338 friends has 338 of their own friends, and each shares the story themselves, your total reach is 114,244 people. While you’re never going to have 100 percent of the people in your first or second degree of friends react to everything you post, it doesn’t take nearly that much for a hoax to spread and maintain circulation, sometimes even for years.
Facebook does indeed have an algorithm that determines what you see, but it’s far more complicated then what the current hoax postings are suggesting.
Anyone claiming that they know exactly how Facebook’s algorithm works shouldn’t be trusted. It’s not something Facebook shares with anyone, and it’s constantly evolving by design.
Facebook regularly makes tweaks to its algorithm, like several social media giants, to keep people from gaming the system, so playing the copy and paste game that the hoax is encouraging is pretty useless.
According to Facebook, what you comment on and ‘like,’ along with whether your friends interact with your posts, is one of the biggest factors that will determine what shows up in your news feed. If you haven’t seen anything from a friend in a while, search for their profile and make sure they’re still actively posting and if so, like or comment on something they recently posted.
The cause of the rumors
Most people point to a January 2018 announcement from Facebook that actually did announce a significant change to their algorithm.
Facebook felt that too many of the posts in our news feed were from publishers, advertisers and companies, and not our actual friends.
The change they made actually increased the likelihood of seeing your own friends posts, and made it harder for businesses to jam up your news feeds with less meaningful content.
Our collective responsibility
Much of the Russian interference with the 2016 election was possible because too many users still take what they see in their news feed at face value.
The attempts by Facebook and government regulators to combat this ongoing problem will be useless if more users don’t take the time to verify information that they are reposting from others.
Anyone that has fallen for this hoax and shared it with their friends should take the time to go back to their friends and correct themselves, even though it’s probably too late.
One quick way to research anything that’s been posted is to either copy the headline or the first paragraph of the post and use it as a Google search. You’ll likely get a large number of sites with information about its validity if it’s a real story, and lots of sites debunking the information if it’s a hoax — but don’t rely on any single website for validation.
If you can’t verify information, it’s better not to repost it.