Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Intersect | Analysis

Facebook isn’t restricting your News Feed to 26 friends, no matter what a viral hoax claims

February 7, 2018 at 11:19 AM

A version of the most recent meme began spreading on Facebook late last year. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

This article exists, in essence, to tell you that a viral meme you’ve seen copied and pasted all over your Facebook News Feed is just a hoax.

We’ve been here before: from the immortal “copyright” hoax to myriad urgent messages about privacy, Facebook has long been a home to the next generation of chain letters. This one, as many of its predecessors have, thrives on the mistrust many of Facebook’s users have of the platform itself.

Related: [Why that Facebook copyright hoax will never, ever die]

There are a couple different versions of the latest copy-paste hoax, but they all seem to make a few of the same claims: Facebook’s new algorithms will force you to see posts from only a handful of your friends. But you can trick the algorithm by commenting “hi” on a friend’s post. That, somehow, will “bypass” Facebook’s systems and make sure the friend posting the copy-pasted message will see your posts in their News Feed.

Here’s an example of a warning people are posting on their feeds, often copied and pasted verbatim from someone else:

How to avoid hearing from the same 26 FB friends and nobody else:

Here is a post explaining why we don’t see all posts from our friends….

News feed recently shows only posts from the same few people, about 25, repeatedly the same, because facebook has a new algorithm.

Their system chooses the people to read Your post. However, I would like to choose for myself, Therefore, I ask you a favor: if you read this message leave me a quick comment, a “hello”, a sticker, whatever you want, so you will appear in my news feed.

Don’t just “Like”, Facebook requires a “Comment”. Even one word! Thanks!!!

Otherwise Facebook chooses who to show me and instead I don’t need facebook to choose my friends!

Do not hesitate to copy and paste on your wall so you can have more interaction with all your contacts and bypass the system. That’s why we don’t see all posts from our friends!

We sent a couple of examples of this meme to Facebook on Tuesday for comment, and a Facebook spokesman replied overnight: “Friends don’t let friends copy and paste memes, and this one simply is not true. We rank News Feed based on how relevant each post might be to you, and while we’ve made some updates that could increase the number of posts you see from your friends, your News Feed isn’t limited to 25 of them.”

As Snopes notes, a version of this meme began spreading on Facebook late last year. But it’s really taken off in recent days. And that’s probably because, as Facebook’s statement indicates, Facebook really did make changes to what shows up in your News Feed in mid-January — just not in the way this viral message claims.

Facebook’s “News Feed,” or what you see when you open up your app or visit Facebook in a browser while logged on, has never been a raw feed of posts from your friends. It’s algorithmically “ranked,” according to what Facebook thinks you want to see. How Facebook, exactly, makes the decisions about what you do and don’t see, and when, has long been a source of intrigue.

And that intrigue has only grown over the past year or so. A series of recent scandals — including, yes, trending misinformation on Facebook — have highlighted how imperfect and complicated that process can be.

Related: [Facebook’s changing its news feed. How will it affect what you see?]

In January, Facebook announced that it would make changes to emphasize “meaningful” posts on the News Feed (i.e. those from family and friends), to the detriment of the news organizations and brands — the kernel of truth that seems to make the “26 friends” hoax thrive. Here’s what the company said:

We will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to — whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion.

Ironically, Facebook’s new News Feed algorithm might love the hoax itself — which, after all, encourages users to comment and react to the post. But commenting “hi” on your friends’ posts won’t affect your feed that much.

There are a couple of real ways to take more control over what you see in your News Feed: Facebook allows you to “prioritize” who you see first in your News Feed by going into News Feed preferences and manually editing that list. You can also choose to see fewer posts from a person or page by hiding their posts or “snoozing” them, which Facebook explains in more detail here.

More reading: 


Abby Ohlheiser covers digital culture for The Washington Post. She was previously a general assignment reporter for The Post, focusing on national breaking news and religion.

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