Quick Links from the Past Year, Part 4 (The Algorithms; Facebook)

[Shoutout to all of the dads out there! 🎉]

The Algorithms

* What would happen if FB turned off its newsfeed algorithm?

In February 2018, a Facebook researcher all but shut off the News Feed ranking algorithm for .05% of Facebook users. “What happens if we delete ranked News Feed?” they asked in an internal report summing up the experiment. Their findings: Without a News Feed algorithm, engagement on Facebook drops significantly, people hide 50% more posts, content from Facebook Groups rises to the top, and — surprisingly — Facebook makes even more money from users scrolling through the News Feed…

Turning off the News Feed ranking algorithm, the researcher found, led to a worse experience almost across the board. People spent more time scrolling through the News Feed searching for interesting stuff, and saw more advertisements as they went (hence the revenue spike). They hid 50% more posts, indicating they weren’t thrilled with what they were seeing. They saw more Groups content, because Groups is one of the few places on Facebook that remains vibrant. And they saw double the amount of posts from public pages they don’t follow, often because friends commented on those pages. “We reduce the distribution of these posts massively as they seem to be a constant quality compliant,” the researcher said of the public pages.

* This Twitter study concludes that “mainstream right-wing parties benefit at least as much, & often substantially more, from algorithmic personalization as their left-wing counterparts”

* Nature: “no strong or consistent evidence of political bias in the [Twitter] news feed…The interactions of conservative accounts are skewed toward the right, whereas liberal accounts are exposed to moderate content shifting their experience toward the political center. Partisan accounts, especially conservative ones, tend to receive more followers and follow more automated accounts. Conservative accounts also find themselves in denser communities and are exposed to more low-credibility content.”

* “Is Twitter biased against conservatives? The challenge of inferring political bias in a hyper-partisan media ecosystem“:

During [the study] period, while only 7.7% of the Democratic users were suspended, 35.6% of the Republican users were suspended. The Republican users, however, shared substantially more news from misinformation sites – as judged by either fact-checkers or politically balanced crowds – than the Democratic users. Critically, we found that users’ misinformation sharing was as predictive of suspension as was their political orientation. Thus, the observation that Republicans were more likely to be suspended than Democrats provides no support for the claim that Twitter showed political bias in its suspension practices. Instead, the observed asymmetry could be explained entirely by the tendency of Republicans to share more misinformation. While support for action against misinformation is bipartisan, the sharing of misinformation – at least at this historical moment – is heavily asymmetric across parties. As a result, our study shows that it is inappropriate to make inferences about political bias from asymmetries in suspension rates.

* “Examining the consumption of radical content on YouTube“: ” news consumption on YouTube is dominated by mainstream and largely centrist sources. Consumers of far-right content, while more engaged than average, represent a small and stable percentage of news consumers. However, consumption of “anti-woke” content, defined in terms of its opposition to progressive intellectual and political agendas, grew steadily in popularity and is correlated with consumption of far-right content off-platform. We find no evidence that engagement with far-right content is caused by YouTube recommendations systematically, nor do we find clear evidence that anti-woke channels serve as a gateway to the far right. Rather, consumption of political content on YouTube appears to reflect individual preferences that extend across the web as a whole.”

* “On YouTube’s recommendation system

* Playlisting Favorites: Measuring Platform Bias in the Music Industry: “We find that Spotify’s New Music rankings favor indie-label music and music by women.”

* NYT: “Election Falsehoods Surged on Podcasts Before Capitol Riots, Researchers Find” 

* The Verge: “Tumblr is settling with NYC’s human rights agency over alleged porn ban bias”

* WaPo: How Twitch took down Buffalo shooter’s stream in under two minutes


* WSJ: “Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt”

* The Intercept: Revealed: Facebook’s Secret Blacklist of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”

* Politico: Inside Facebook’s struggle to contain insurrectionists’ posts

* The Markup: What Does Facebook Mean When It Says It Supports “Internet Regulations”?

* WSJ: Facebook Says AI Will Clean Up the Platform. Its Own Engineers Have Doubts.

* NYT: In India, Facebook Grapples With an Amplified Version of Its Problems

* NYT: Internal Alarm, Public Shrugs: Facebook’s Employees Dissect Its Election Role

* WSJ: “Facebook’s management team has been so intently focused on avoiding charges of bias that it regularly places political considerations at the center of its decision making”

* Wired: The Infinite Reach of Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s Man in Washington

* Washington Post: Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok

* NYT: Facebook Wrestles With the Features It Used to Define Social Networking. “when the Like button was hidden, users interacted less with posts and ads. At the same time, it did not alleviate teenagers’ social anxiety and young users did not share more photos”

* NYT: Eating Disorders and Social Media Prove Difficult to Untangle

* NYT: The Silent Partner Cleaning Up Facebook for $500 Million a Year

* Nieman Labs: Facebook looks ready to divorce the news industry, and I doubt couples counseling will help