How Spammy Is Facebook's News Feed: An Experiment

Image: iStock

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!



    It's absolutely horrible.

    Still hate how there is no way to lock in which timeline you want and it reverts to the "Top Stories" all the time. I enjoy seeing something from last week pop up said no one ever. I want my timeline in chronological order, not all over the place.

    Then combine that with the sponsored posts or pages my I may like or friends I may know (but don't know a single one of them).

    I spend more time on it hiding these posts and choosing to hide all from whatever page it is than anything else.

    I've barely got 100 friends on my list and a lot of those don't post much, I can't imagine how terrible it is for someone with much more than me. I'd have gotten rid of it a long time ago now if it wasn't one of the ways I stay in contact with some friends and family.

      You can still log into Messenger without having a Facebook account. All it needs is you to download messenger, sign in with your phone number, get a verification text and sync your details.

      Then, you’re still able to stay in touch with friends and family.

    Something interesting i found was if you go through and add every one into the "close friends" list and view that group it will show your news feed in chronological order like the OG news feed and with out all the "such and such liked this post" or "commented on this rubbish" Try it out.

    This is why I've deviated away from the standard "Facebook" mediums, because of the flexibility they provide.

    I use the "Social Fixer" browser extension for my desktop variants, and set the default to "Most Recent", which should be able to be the default imo.

    I use Friendly (app) on my S8 to do the same.

    Both remove advertisements too I think. Plus by not using the Facebook app I save a bit of Battery and from what i've seen recently, privacy concerns regarding voice listening.

    "Most recent" is what I wish Facebook went back to being the default, it never will though.

    Based on that list, I'd say your News Feed is 99% spam.
    You should add up how much time you spend each week scrolling through this stuff and ask yourself if it's worth it.

      (Hayley is our Social Media Manager, so in her case - it's definitely worth it :P )

      You do know you have the ability to unfollow pages right?

    After all these years I still don't get why people use facebook, if people want to talk to me they have my phone number, if they need to send me something, they have my email or a cloud storage service. Facebook is just a platform that combines these services and serves you a crapload of ads and sells your personal information as a means of paying for the convenience. As more and more people use the service they need to increase the number of ads because of diminishing returns from the number of people that use the service (and ad blockers) and this is only going to get worse. People should jump ship before it's too late and their life depends on a platform that exists only to make money from them.


      So a long time friend of mine who is in europe. I should spend money calling him internationally rather than just chat with him on facebook?

      Not everyone likes talking to people on the phone. Its 2017, Not 1993

        You chat to him using Facebook, as opposed to Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage or any of the other myriad free messaging apps?

        Generally curious to hear if people still use Facebook like this, communicating via comments on posts and the "wall".

        There are a squillion ways to call people without having to pay for the call... maybe not that many, but at least a trillion.

          Or i could just you know. Open facebook messenger and talk with them instantly.

            Exactly, but you don’t need a Facebook account to have an active messenger account.

            Facebook the product is not synonymous with Facebook the company.

            Messenger is just another part of Facebook's growing portfolio, whereas I think the article is critiquing the Facebook site specifically.

        Really, you prefer to message. I personally cannot stand it. So much easier to call chat about life hang up.

        Calling people is the way to go. I see it in work life everyday. I could write an email but really that is just a follow up tool after a phone call. So much simpler then texting etc.

        Plus i live in Europe now and keep in contact with my friends back in Oz regularly without cost. Whatsapp or skype call. Of course i do the odd message as sometimes it is more convenient. But really majority of the time it is calling.

          I guess im just the kind of person who prefers text based chat over Voip.

          I rarely ever answer my phone. But ill always reply to a text message.

            Cool article and an interesting read. I never thought about those types of reasons etc for not using the phone. Good ideas....

      Agreed. i quit facebook pretty much instantly many years ago. I still think it is one of the worst things ever invented and is a real bane on society.

    I very rarely use it these days. It's turned into a stream of 'liked' videos and self-improvement proclamations that has very little of interest or relevance to me.

    It was fantastic at first, finding old friends, connecting with school mates from several decades ago. But time has seen those old friends and acquaintances drift off to their day to day lives as we slowly realised why we drifted apart. We just don't have all that much in common any more.

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