Community April 13, 2018

The Algorithm Ate My Facebook Page

How Facebook Chews Up the Little Guys: A True Story

Life was simpler back when all we had was our dog to blame when our homework or something went missing. Now it is a creature that we don’t understand, can’t see, don’t know how it works—a computer-driven algorithm.

I met my first algorithm—let’s call him Al— back in 2010 or thereabouts. I had a whisky life-style website at the time, an online magazine about the whisky experience, wine, women and song. (A dormant version of it is here, if you want to check it out.) We set up a Facebook page to help promote the site and back in those early days we got big numbers on Facebook, regularly clocking 250,000 likes. We were small bit advertisers, until they banned an ad with Tennessee Williams sitting at his typewriter with a cigarette in his ashtray. Then we stopped advertising for all practical purposes: it was petty censorship. Today they accept ads that sell fentanyl on the internet. At about the same time, we started to discover what everyone knows now: Facebook is more of a look medium than a read medium. But we preserved and attracted some sponsors and advertisers.

Then one day, without notice, about 60 percent of my timeline posts vanished. Gone. Zip. Nil. Zilch. Poof. Hasta leugo. They didn’t even leave a trail. They were the most popular posts on my Facebook page. (We still have a record of those posts by name and likes.)

Now what do you do? At the time Facebook had no face. Likes dope dealers and money launderers, they had a faceless store front in some rundown strip mall. You knew they were in California, but there was no phone number unless you persevered.

Before I finish the story, remember that Mark, the Zuck, has repeatedly told Congress in two days of testimony, that the user controls his or her content. He made it a point, again and again: Facebook does not control content, except when they do.

We’ve grown accustomed to folks lying, especially folks in high places: politics, business, culture, publishing, broadcasting, academia, locker rooms, pulpits, casting couches. It used to be covert: now it is overt.

I finally got through to a human voice at Facebook who asked the obvious questions and I suggested he simply look at the site and I would talk him through the problem. He did and he said he was impressed with the traffic we were generating for our size. He then said, his guess was an algorithm caused the problem. He then reported that Facebook had the same problem in the prior year when Al was on the loose. He then said they had fixed the problem–fired him. Not really, but they did their best to humanize the algorithm, much the same way the US Supreme Court said companies are people too.

Then I asked the obvious: when were they going to restore the posts? They said they couldn’t do that. Somehow they were gone. Somehow Al hid them somewhere. That’s all they said. They didn’t say they were sorry. They didn’t offer to make amends by giving me some free advertising. They didn’t offer to give me a statement I could post or show my sponsors. They simply said it was Al’s fault and there was nothing they could do.

I have not used Facebook since.

3 Comments

  • April 19, 2018

    Love this piece, and these kinds of things still go on!

    • April 24, 2018

      Sadly they do and more sadly the big boys don’t care. I understand that in Europe there will soon be a requirement that companies obtain your permission to continue to post your material every three months. I’m not sure that is the answer, but Europe, especially the UK is all over this one.

  • August 4, 2018

    I enjoyed this article. Mark the Zuk and Al have gotten away with too too much too too long.
    I wish I your strength to say “ good ruins” to Facebook but I’m an avid user. Ugh! Is there going to be a 12 step program for this!

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