On Sunday, a story broke revealing that Facebook joined with researchers to manipulate the News Feeds of about 700,000 randomly selected profiles, all in the name of a psychological study.
“The researchers,” the AFP wrote, “wanted to see if the number of positive or negative words in messages the users read determined whether they then posted positive or negative content in their status updates.”
The experiment — and the public outcry that followed — implies a fraught relationship between the world’s largest social network and the people who use it. Facebook picks and chooses which of your friends’ posts surface in your main News Feed; the experiment was a special case, of course, but it raises a broader question: What factors normally determine whether a Facebook post shows up for you?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that Facebook has been tweaking the algorithm that influences your News Feed since it introduced the feature. And it has never revealed the method by which it chooses those posts.
“Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300,” wrote Facebook advertising executive Brian Boland in a Facebook post in June 2014. “To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story (from more to less important) by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.”
In other words: Facebook is not Twitter or Instagram or Tumblr. You do not see every single post from every single person you’re friends with.
And rightly so! A constant stream of posts from every single one of your friends would get exhausting and annoying. And as I’ve written before, it’s a bit of a social faux pas to unfriend a person just because you don’t like her feed.
How this algorithm plays out in your News Feed is still murky to the public. Though Facebook offered a few scant details about its process last year, the thousands of factors that go into this recipe are largely kept under wraps. Here, however, is what we know can determine whether you’ll see a Facebook friend’s post or not:
Hiding a post
Every time you come across something you find stupid or unsavory, you have the option of communicating that sentiment to Facebook, so it can adjust what you’ll see in the future.
Facebook will then give you three options of feedback, so it can better identify what you want to view.
Depending on what you choose, Facebook will make sure to hide posts like that in the future, or look into either banning the poster or the content if it’s inappropriate or from a bot. The same goes for anything you hide from group feeds or if you unfollow a friend.
Stalking a friend
The more you visit a person’s page, like his posts, or post on his page, the more that person will show up in your feed.
How popular a post is
If a post receives a lot of likes, shares, and comments, it’ll bubble to the surface of other people’s feeds.
How often you’ve interacted with a type of post
Say you’re an otter enthusiast, and your friends are posting about otters. If you’ve often commented on similar posts in the past, these types of messages are more likely to show up in your personal stream.
Age ain’t nothing but a number
It used to be that the older a post was, the more likely it’d be buried in your feed. But if something from the past suddenly spurs lots of likes or comments, it’ll resurface for others to see.
Additionally, The Daily Beast conducted a study in 2010 that revealed a few ways posts might be influenced, but there’s no guarantee that these constraints are still in place, as Facebook changes its algorithm often, without notifying its members.
Videos > images > links > posts
Those who include imagery or links to other websites in their posts are more likely to be noticed by Facebook’s algorithm and be pushed to other feeds.
Newcomers have it hard
If you’ve recently joined Facebook and don’t have many friends, your posts will be less likely to be spread among other people in your network. Sorry; popular kids rule all.
So there you have it. In addition to these factors, Facebook continues to prioritize its paid advertisements, disguised as “Promoted Posts” in that prime digital real estate for its own benefit. It also, as we’ve just recently learned, will make way for psychological studies that can make us depressed. There’s still no surefire way you can perfectly adjust your News Feed to show you exactly what you want from whom you want.