Caleb Garling on Facebook's Algorithm

Later, people asked me, "What do you think elevated the post?" Likes, comments, the number of people who made them, what they said, velocity, timing, my profile—all of that, in some way, played a part. The real answer, of course, is the algorithm. It is written in a wild array of numbers, symbols and computer-speak that only a handful of Facebook employees understand. And as I watched my faux-news go, I felt how that combination of numbers and signals and people starts to resemble one giant interconnected neural network—like a vibrant MRI of a human brain as someone plays chess or has sex.

Facebook seems determined to get on my bad side lately, which may be why Caleb Garling's latest experiment resonated with me.

Garling set out to "trick" Facebook's algorithm, which surfaces some stories to the top of users' news feeds while suppressing others. It does so by scanning each update for keywords which imply personal milestones.

That would mean that, theoretically, a story about a pregnancy, a marriage, or a job change would be more likely to be seen than, say, a political post. But is that the case? Is it really so cut-and-dry? Garling tested that very hypothesis.

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