How Spammy Is Facebook's News Feed: An Experiment

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Does Facebook feel a little spammy to you these days? It always seems like my feed is full of posts from pages I don't follow, photos of friends I haven't talked to in years and most of all ads — ads upon ads upon ads. To figure out if this was true or all in my head, I documented some of my News Feed to determine what type of posts Facebook's mysterious algorithm had decided were relevant to me, and figure out how spammy it really was.

Facebook is always trying to convince people that its News Feed algorithm changes are for the better, ever since they did away with a straightforward chronological feed. Their official statements are always about delivering content that's more relevant to you, or showing posts that are more in tune with what you want, even if that means Facebook is claiming to know what you want better than you do. Yet it feels like every change they make just delivers more ads and more spam from low-quality meme aggregation pages.

So let's check out what I'm really getting. Here are the 35 posts that made up the top of my Facebook feed at 3:54pm on December 18:

  • Friend's post, just now.
  • Sponsored post.
  • Friend replied to a comment on their post, 4 days ago.
  • Group post by a non-friend, 3 hours ago.
  • Page post, 13 minutes ago.
  • Group post by a non-friend, 9 hours ago.
  • Page post, 9 hours ago.
  • Sponsored post.
  • Page post, 1 day ago.
  • Friend commented on a post from a page I followed, 2 days ago.
  • Page post, 15 hours ago.
  • Page added 1 photo to album, 5 hours ago.
  • Post shared to group by non-friend, 3 hours ago.
  • Sponsored post.
  • Page post, 19 hours ago.
  • Page post, 16 hours ago.
  • Page post, 2 days ago.
  • Group post by a non-friend, 20 hours ago.
  • Page post, 3 days ago.
  • Group post by non-friend, 5 hours ago.
  • Sponsored post.
  • Page post, 3 days ago.
  • Page post, 3 days ago.
  • Page added 2 photos to album, 2 days ago.
  • Page post, 3 days ago.
  • Page added 19 new photos, 3 days ago.
  • Group post by non-friend, 4 hours ago.
  • Sponsored post.
  • Group post by non-friend, 4 hours ago.
  • Page shared post from other page, 1 day ago.
  • Page post, 23 hours ago.
  • Page post, 2 days ago.
  • Page shared 5 photos to album, 1 day ago.
  • Page updated cover photo.
  • Sponsored post.

While this is far from an empirical study, it shows some interesting patterns. The most obvious thing that jumps out (and not just because I've bolded it) is the regular appearance of sponsored posts, popping up every five or six posts like clockwork. Most of these were the type that lead with "8 of your friends like ____", trying to add relevancy to ads that are increasingly prevalent in my News Feed.

The second thing I noticed is how old most of the posts are. Only two out of 35 posts were made within the last hour, and 15 of them weren't even posted today. While Facebook has always claimed its algorithms are needed to sort through the thousands of posts available to people at any one time, it seems to struggle to find recent posts made by your friends or followed pages.

Now my feed probably looks a little different to most people's — I think I like more than 2000 pages — but the prevalence of group posts and page posts over personal ones is fairly glaring. You have to wonder whether that's the algorithm's preference or if people just aren't posting that much on their own profiles anymore (I know I've only shared three posts this December). Most of the group posts were from buy/sell groups I don't actively post in, which was baffling.

The breakdown of the pages I saw posts from is something else I could get deep into. Pages I've liked recently are prioritised, even over pages I interact with often. Despite my huge pool of thousands of pages, I'd have the same one coming up a couple of times, and most not appearing at all.

While this one little snapshot isn't quite enough for a proper dataset, it's still interesting to find out what Facebook classifies as being most relevant to me. While I haven't included the details of each post, I can say that there wasn't much that would have tempted me to interact — and I had to scroll through six different ads just for this.

Still, Facebook is so firmly entrenched in my life that at this point all I can do is complain. Dammit.

Have you noticed similar trends on your own News Feed, or is yours much different? Let us know in the comments!

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