Are YOU in the 15%?

Facebook has gone to great lengths to ensure that things I post on my Facebook wall are visible to only a fraction of the people on my Friend list (15% according to the last things I’ve read1), and that I only get to see a fraction (presumably the same 15%) of what my friends write on THEIR walls.

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Who gets to see my stuff, and whose stuff I get to see, has been made dependent on a hidden popularity contest that relies on what I, or you and others, have clicked “Like” on, or shared, or commented. The fact that you and your friends are on each others’ Friend lists isn’t enough. Nor the fact that you have manually selected to see “All updates” (as opposed to what Facebook, by unknown criteria, decides is “Most updates” or “Only important”).

I’ve tested and confirmed this by visiting several of my friends’ profiles over time, and I’ve found that there is a LOT of stuff that they have posted, which is openly available for me to see on their profiles, that I have never seen on my News Feed, even though I have explicitly selected to see all their posts. This includes posts by members of my nearest family and friends that I have in my Family and Close Friends groups.

And yet Facebook does not hesitate to suggest for my “Close Friends” list people with whom I haven’t exchanged a word or clicked a “Like” on for ages, and that I should add to my Friend list people that I do not know, with whom I have nothing in common, no mutual friends, no shared “Likes” or even membership in the same Facebook groups. I find this very, very odd, even self-contradictory.

What, then, is the point of Friend lists? From this point of view, it simply shows the size of your fan base. Your Family and Close Friends groups? Using them makes hardly any difference at all.

To me, the whole reason for having people on my Friend list is so that I can see what they write, and that they can see what I write. Facebook’s principle of adding people to a Friend list in order to keep in touch and communicate with them, and then actively sabotaging that communication with a set of “popularity rules”, is stupid. It is of course also part of a business plan, but it is still stupid.

This may well be a First World Problem. It doesn’t have anything to do with more serious matters like famine, epidemics, poverty, religious oppression, wars or natural disasters. At least, that’s how it looks on the surface. Deeper down, though, the fact is that Facebook is one of the most significant and influential communication channels we have in the world today. It has to do with respecting relationships between people, respecting their need to be able to communicate without censorship, regardless of the criteria by which the messages get censored. It also has to do with accepting that disrespect, and letting stupidity rule, as if we don’t have more than enough of that in the world already.

When I got started on the Internet in the mid-to-late Nineties, and saw how wide the web of my real-life and online-only contacts and friends grew and spread throughout the world, I was amazed. That I could sit in a room in a small, insignificant and barely known country called Norway, and interact directly with people as far away as England, Germany, South Africa, USA or Australia was mindboggling. I thought, this is a great way for people to get closer, to learn to understand each other. This represents hope that the ignorance and fear that keeps people isolated from and hostile towards one another, might over time make way for mutual respect and friendship between peoples and nations that were previously only looking for excuses to go at each other’s throats. Granted, most of the people I interacted with at the time, and today still, were from not-too-different neighbourhoods, and had little or no trouble understanding each other, but the idea was there. What a wonderful thought, I thought. I was young, naive and stupid at the time. Today I am fifteen years older, and apparently still naive and stupid.

I estimate that some 90% of what goes around on Facebook consists mainly of recycled witty stories, and pictures of kittens. There is, however, a good portion of the remaining 10% that are actual messages of value, even great value, words that say someone cares, or original words of deep thought written by the posters themselves, messages that richly deserve being seen by as large an audience as possible.

It tends to be the kittens, though, that get the “Likes” and comments, and that get passed on like chain mail, gaining popularity with every click. The 15% or so of messages that actually reach your News Feed consists mainly of those kittens. I have nothing against kittens, for the record, but the deeper and more important stuff tends to get drowned out by simple lack of popularity, perhaps the very reason why it ought to be seen by as many as possible.

And that’s stupid.


  1. “I want my friends back” by

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