Facebook algorithms have been a social media boogey man to many political-themed page administrators trying to build a presence on Facebook. The commonly lamented notion that Facebook’s algorithm leads to “echo chambers” of sorts among its users isn’t exactly true, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Science. The study of 10 million Facebook user accounts, conducted by data scientists at Facebook, determined that liberals and conservatives are regularly exposed to at least some “crosscutting” political news. That means that News stories that do not conform to their pre-existing political bias are still seen by each.
Now, the results have already been called into question by many, stating that the Facebook study is flawed because of sampling problems and interpretation issues. That being said, the study claims that the algorithm for Facebook’s News Feed leads conservatives to see 5% less liberal content than their friends share and liberals see 8% less conservative content. However, the biggest impact on what users see comes from past engagements, such as what they have Liked, Shared or Commented on in the past. Facebook’s algorithm populates the users News Feed with News posts based in part on the content they have clicked on in the past.
According to the research, Liberals are about 6% less likely to click on crosscutting (Conservative) content, whereas Conservatives are about 17% less likely to click on crosscutting (Liberal) content. Just at a glance, one can see an obvious Facebook liberal bias in the numbers. Conservatives are 17% less likely to click Liberal content, but only see a 5% reduction in Liberal content in their News Feed. On the other hand, Liberals are more likely to click on Conservative content (6% less likely vs. conservatives 17% less likely) and yet see a greater reduction in Conservative content, seeing 8% less content vs. conservatives 5% reduction. Sounds like either the algorithms isn’t working very well, or it is working as intended, depending on your ideological bent. From their own study results it seems that Facebook delivers more liberal content to conservatives, even though they engage with it less. Yet they deliver less conservative content to liberals even though they are more likely to engage with it.
Critics of the study call it The Facebook “It’s Not Our Fault” Study and describe at length how Facebook attempts to blame YOU for your polarization and selectivity. It’s a ‘what came first the chicken or the egg’ argument. The Facebook algorithm chooses and ranks what you see in the News Feed and then you make a selection based upon the pre-filtered content they provide. Facebook’s argument is that what a user chooses to click on is somehow different and more “telling” than what the algorithm is hiding from them. You can’t click what you can’t see. So remember, Facebook is great and whatever is wrong with Facebook is all your fault.