Facebook’s Course To Becoming A Peace Of Mind Machine|ars Technica

A few broader feel-good posts about actor Chris Pratts ice-bucket challenge to raise awareness and money for ALS, another friends ice-bucket challenge, another friends ice-bucket challenge in fact, way more about ice bucket challenges than Ferguson or any other news-making event. In my news feed organized by top stories over the last day, I get one post aboutFerguson. If I setitto organize by “most recent,” there are five posts in the last five hours. Zach Seward of Quartz noted , also anecdotally, that Facebook seems more likely to show videos ofof people dumping cold water on their heads in high summer than police officers shooting tear gas at protesters and members of the media. And rightfully so in Facebooks warped version of reality : people on Facebook may not be sointerested in seeing the latter. At least, not if Facebook cant show them the right angle. But Facebooks algorithmic approach and the involvement of content sources is starting to come together such that it may soon be able to do exactly that. Facebooks controversial news feed manipulation study revealed, on a very small scale, that showing users more positive content encourages them to create positive content, resulting in a happier, reassuring Facebook experience. Showing them negative content leads to them creating more negative content, resulting in a negative feedback loop. A second, earlier study from independent researchers in January looked at how political content and debate affects users perception of Facebook, their friends, and their use of Facebook. The study found that, because Facebook friend networks are often composed of weak ties wherethe threshold for friending someone is low, users were often negatively surprised to see their acquaintances express political opinions different from their own. This felt alienating and, overall, made everyone less likely to speak up on political matters(and therefore, create content for Facebook). Its also well-understood outside of Facebook that people enjoy , and even actively seek , consuming information they agree with. Controversial topics are, right now, poor at providing that experience on Facebook. One of the things Facebook thrives on is users posting and discussing viral content from other third-party sites, especially from sources like BuzzFeed, Elite Daily, Upworthy, and their ilk. There is a reason that the content users see tends to be agreeable to a general audience: sites like those above are constantly honing their ability to surface stuff with universal appeal . Content that causes dissension and tension can provide short-term rewards to Facebook in the form of heated debates, but content that creates accord and harmony is what keeps people coming back. Divisive content can be intensely sticky too if shown to the right audience (witness Fox News). But in order for it to stick for Facebook, it has to be shown to the right audience without creating a closed and incestuous circle that prevents viewers or readers from seeing less and less stuff overall. Recently, BuzzFeed announced an initiative to start posting content directly to sites like Facebook instead of hosting it themselves. Once there, it can be dealt with by Facebooks algorithm exclusively, potentially serving each article or video directly to its particular audience, however niche or polarized. What shakes out of the BuzzFeed-Distributed approach and a future version of Facebooks algorithm is the eventual next-level ability to serve viral content, in that it may soon be able to do so using material that suits each users particular biases. The tentative approach to Ferguson news shows its not there yet, but the pieces are starting to fall into place.
For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/08/how-facebook-might-fix-its-trivial-viral-content-glut/

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