It's long been understood that what a person sees on his/her Facebook News Feed is determined by what that person shared, liked or commented on. Now, a new algorithm being used by the company will also determine content based on how long a user looks at a post.
Yes, the Facebook machine is now watching what you look at so they will know more about what you like, regardless of whether or not you did "like" it.
There's a good (and logical) explanation for this new development and the company explained the idea in a blog post.
The short post mentioned that some "people want to see information about a serious current event, but don't necessarily want to like or comment on it." So the company is taking into consideration how long a user views a story in a News Feed and compares it to that user's typical reading pattern so that it can promote the content that the user is more interested in.
Of course, scanning a story for just 10-15 seconds doesn't cut it because, as Facebook's software engineer Ansha Yun explains in the blog post, "some people may spend 10 seconds on a story because they really enjoy it, while others may spend 10 seconds on a story because they have a slow Internet connection."
What the engineers have discovered is that when people spend more time on a story in their News Feed over the other posts, then it's safe to say that the "content was relevant to them."
So people who just scroll through their friend's food photos but spends 30 – 40 seconds reading a post about Neil Gaiman would find that their News Feed will show more content about the Sandman writer and less content about his/her friend.
Of course, this new algorithm opens the door to some potential problems.
One big problem would be ads and posts by publishers. But Facebook assures users that data collected via this new algorithm will not be shared with advertisers.
Users can't trick Facebook into thinking their content is relevant just by simply leaving the page open either.
A spokesperson for the company confirms that Facebook can determine if the user is actively using his/her account or if it's just left open in the background.
Another problem that has sociologists worried about is how this new algorithm might control the news that people see on their feed.
For instance, when Ferguson was being rocked by riots, a large number of Facebook users didn't receive any posts about it on their News Feed. What they got instead was countless posts about the Ice Bucket Challenge.
This is particularly alarming since more than half of millennials get their news from Facebook and the way the algorithm is designed, it might well show more fluff than substance in the future.
[Image credit: pmg.com]