How much do you know about how Facebook works? How much do you know about what Facebook knows about you? Probably less than you think you do.
If you hadn’t heard the uproar at the beginning of the year (the Facebook researcher’s psychological study, done in conjunction with a Cornell University researcher) then you probably don’t use Facebook enough to worry about it. The above study was conducted with a tiny fraction the total user population. Facebook tweaked these users’ timelines to show them either happy or sad content. Half of the group was shown mostly happy news—all overwhelmingly positive things. The other half got mostly depressing things. They found out an awful lot about their users that way.
Why is that study important to Facebook? The short explanation is that the posts you see affect the mood you’re in. If you are one of the “average” users, then you spend around 40 minutes a day on Facebook. What you see when you are on there for that 40 minutes is then very important to Facebook. However, they are not concerned so much with the emotional part of the content. They want to show you things you are interested in, and ads that target those interests.
The algorithms used by Facebook to determine what sort of posts you want to see are run off of the details it has gathered from you through the years. Most of your timeline content is chosen by the amount of time you spend on a certain page, the number of Likes you have made, or the number of articles and posts shared.
Why is that? Facebook knows every keystroke and click you make on the site, and it knows psychology. What they found is that the average user only wants to see small amounts of material, and only from certain sectors. What you have recently Liked, or a news post you shared, to the friends you talk to the most. It also includes some news and advertisements.
If it seems scary to have a computer know so much about you, think about what you input to the web on a daily basis. If Facebook can tell you are happy by what you say and who you say it to, then it isn’t hard for them to better target your desires. It is, after all, in the business of leaving you wanting more. They need you to keep coming back, in order to make money.
What does this mean to the average user? It means that Facebook knows enough about you to determine what you want to see. So do Amazon, Google, Netflix… Your data is neither secret nor sacred. These companies track what you do on the Internet—what you write, read, watch, or the games you play. This is to tailor your experience, to keep it simple and pleasant. Be wary of the ease and convenience, though. Shake it up once in a while and see what suggestions their algorithms throw your way.