What the docs show: Facebook uses the fixes to its algorithm to make money

A leaked internal Facebook document shows how the social media giant uses reports on its approach to restoring users’ posts — as well as the rate at which certain users’ posts have been deleted…

What the docs show: Facebook uses the fixes to its algorithm to make money

A leaked internal Facebook document shows how the social media giant uses reports on its approach to restoring users’ posts — as well as the rate at which certain users’ posts have been deleted — to decide which companies and news publishers to invest in, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The details have not been publicly released, and the document’s origin has not been clear. It has been available for a week to roughly two dozen people who worked on Facebook’s partnerships team, according to the Post. Facebook said Thursday that it has not been authorized to discuss the document.

The document shows some details about Facebook’s filters and user feedback — such as whether messages involving a religious topic are at the top of a feed or whether actions related to following a terrorist group are blocked — and also quantifies the percentage of messages that were restored in one region, or over several days.

What makes the report significant is how granular the calculation of the “repairs” are, according to HuffPost. The report calls data collected through monthly automated reports “recovery rates,” and states that repair rates are calculated to match the “universality” of the service.

Facebook’s algorithm determines what should be on a user’s News Feed, which is the centerpiece of the social network. It is often broken into large clusters with high volume or low quality posts that are typically filtered out. The algorithm, however, is vulnerable to abuse of several kinds. Often, people will create or share fake posts to drive traffic to a website or post that reads like a political post, for example.

The most recent tools that Facebook added to its algorithm seem to have lead to a controversial adjustment to the ranking of posts in its News Feed. After the company revealed it was shifting the ranking based on the time in which people visited a website to help determine whether posts would be seen by more people, conservatives on Facebook shared backlash from users who felt the change unfairly targeted them.

The report showed that in early 2018, Facebook had restored about 16 percent of all posts from certain news publishers; by the middle of the year, the rate had dropped to 12 percent.

The company does not reveal the broader numbers on what percentage of posts are restored, but the document does indicate that the regions with the highest rates were those that had used Facebook’s APIs to test different products.

Fears of a falling repair rate have haunted news publishers. In September, the digital magazine The Atlantic set out to measure it, and found that the type of quality content — such as a story, a video, or an article on a project or campaign — were not being viewed as highly by Facebook’s algorithm as a viral social post that had been shared by many friends. The company’s trending feature, the Atlantic found, had reduced the quality of what was shared and had not improved the number of times these types of posts were seen.

In a comment to The Washington Post, Laurie Peacock, the Atlantic’s editorial director, said that the research was not perfect, but that it was helpful to see what users thought about Facebook’s News Feed rankings.

“The goal was to investigate people’s perceptions of their own metrics. But once that was realized, we wanted to investigate more fully what was happening on Facebook,” she said. “The Facebook page in question is by a very large publisher, and that did influence the results — this is what the news about this was pointing to. But in the first place, for me, just getting out in front of the story was not necessarily all that helpful. These are just tools that we’ve chosen to use — but it’s what we perceive to be the problem. And if we’re becoming aware of how it is, it’s a positive step.”

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