Why Facebook is full of it

Facebook says it's not deliberately throttling news feeds to sell more ads. Maybe that is true. But one way or another, they're lying to us.

Would Yoda lie to you? That's the question Facebook wants you to ask.

As I noted in this space last week, lots of highly vocal people are really ticked off at Facebook because they feel the social network has been deliberately throttling the number of posts their fans see in order to sell more ads. Facebook has been steadily if geekily denying this.

So last week it gathered a posse of friendly journalists and brought in the big guns -- Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader -- to help them make its case. Essentially, Facebook product manager Will Cathcart explained, the News Feed is a complicated stew that weighs things like whether you and others have Liked posts from a particular page, how often you've done it, the kinds of posts you and others have Liked, and if you or others have ignored or complained about posts from this source. 

I'll let Facebook's unofficial apologist and biggest fan, TechCrunch's Josh Constine, take it from here:

Cathcart used a Star Wars-themed example to explain how these work. Let’s say Darth Vader posts that he and Luke Skywalker have confirmed that they are father and son. To determine if Yoda saw this post in his news feed, Facebook would look at: whether Yoda had Liked or interacted with posts by Vader in the past, if Leia and Han Solo Liked the relationship post by Vader when Facebook showed it to them, whether Yoda tended to interact with relationship change posts in the past, and whether anyone else had complained about Vader or this particular post by the Sith Lord.

But what about the Ewoks? Has anyone ever stopped to think about them?

Just for fun, let's assume for a minute Facebook is telling the truth -- that it hasn't changed how the News Feed works in order to sell more Promoted Posts, that it has always filtered the feed based on an algorithm too complicated for we puny humans to understand. Pay no attention to the man behind the EdgeRank curtain; same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

There's an essential disconnect here, and it goes back to the day in 2007 when Facebook introduced Pages and started coaxing celebrities and brands to open up shop on the social network. Back then, the pitch was 'Start up a page with us and build an audience of fans you can market to directly, who will then promote your brand to others.' The assumption was that if you started up a page and managed to attract 10,000 fans, those 10,000 people would see everything you posted. They'd Like some of them, their friends would notice, and your fan base would grow exponentially.

Facebook did nothing to disabuse people of that notion. It never said 'Come build a page with 10,000 fans, and we'll show maybe up to 15 percent of them some of the posts you make, some of the time, using a formula that only we understand.'

Imagine if you hired an emarketing company to send a email blast to 10,000 subscribers once a week. A couple years later you notice that nobody seems to be responding to your blasts, so you ask your emarketing company what's up and they tell you 'oh, we only sent those emails to 1500 people because we saw that not everyone was reading every email.' You'd fire that company, right? Because they promised you one thing and delivered something else. 

That's where Facebook is right now with the millions of small businesses who believed that initial pitch. And that's why these folks are so mad: Because Facebook lied to them -- either recently or in the past. It's yet another bait and switch from a company that appears to have perfected that technique.

Personally, I am always amazed at the difference between using Facebook on the Web and Facebook on my various mobile devices. It is striking. On the Web, my news feed is pretty severely throttled -- I see posts from maybe a dozen people on a consistent basis, with rare occasional visits from random members of my 1100 friend posse. On my iPad and my Windows Phone, I see stuff from people I forgot I had friended. I see a huge range of stuff, some of it completely uninteresting to me, but at least there's some variety.

So my question to Facebook is, why not give us the option of seeing everything and let us decide what's noise and what isn't, like we do on Twitter? Why should Facebook decide what is interesting to me?

I feel compelled to also note that on  the mobile apps there are no ads. No ways to share, no ways to promote posts. And I suspect that is why Facebook hasn't bothered to apply the same algorithms there -- they aren't monetizing their mobile feeds. Yet.

Remember, as Yoda once said: There is no lie, there is only true.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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