Who’s stalking you on Facebook?

On: September 12, 2010
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About Emina Sendijarevic
Some find a great usefulness and comfort in new media, while others complain about the loss of privacy, intimacy and sociability. Technology in my opinion challenges people to rethink their position towards old standards, it challenges them to deconstruct the concepts they thought were embedded in old values and traditions. Instead of blaming or praising new media, we should see new media as an introspective tool for managing our world. New media (qualitative) research and social media analytics are a way to explore and understand every-day-real-life human interaction.


On the mythical algorithm that determines the selection of the 6 friends in your personal Facebook page.

For a while now I’ve noticed that two of my Facebook friends were always being listed in my personal page. Now, I can assure you that they are so-called pseudofriends of mine and I hardly post anything on their walls, so why are they so permanently present on my profile page? The only explanation I could find is that they must be secretly stalking me. Luckely, I found I’m not the only one who’s concerned with this issue. There’s a lively discussion going on about what determines the selection of friends in your personal Facebook page*. And so my journey began.

Picture found on Guyism

Although Facebook itself proclaims the selection of the six friends is completely random, this can not be the case, since there’s no such thing as randomness in the logic of computers. Unless there’s a Geiger counter, or any other monitor of radio-active material connected to it, the computer will create ‘randomness’ by a specific formula that generates pseudorandomeness. However this formula should at least meet certain characteristics, like no repetition, a good distribution and lack of predictability. If we apply the characteristics of such a formula to Facebook, we must conclude that the selection of friends in your profile page is definitely not as (pseudo)random as Facebook claims it to be.

Looking at their award-winning Edgerank Algorithm that fills up your News Feed, we know what they are capable of. So, I looked into ‘user generated theories’ in order to find out what specifies the algorithm of the selection of friends in your profile page.

Most users agree that the selection of friends in Facebook is mainly based upon who recently and most frequently has viewed your profile. There’s consensus that Facebook friends with more than 700 friends show more often, but when reaching more than 3000 friends they would show less. Another theory suggests it’s the other way around, that those are the friends you view the most. However all comments on this post seem to strongly disagree with that.

What’s even more remarkable about these comments** is that people seem really obsessed with knowing what influences the selection of friends on their profile. For example some of them took the effort of setting up a new account and friending themselves, others are determined to develop a program that could monitor the selection of friends over time. Lots of observations have been described, especially by people who just recently ended their relationship:

Dreana Coleman: “CASE IN POINT: My ex boyfriend and I recently parted ways. Upon parting I deleted him as a friend and blocked him as well so he had NO ACCESS TO MY FB PAGE. We have a mutual friend in common (which is actually HIS friend), who prior to the breakup, NEVER appeared on my page. Now that my ex has no access to my FB page and I know for a fact my ex has his friends user name/password, EVERY TIME I refresh my page, the friend’s pic is there. Ex was deleted and blocked Sunday, the friend’s pic began appearing Monday. COINCIDENCE?? I KNOW NOT! Once I changed my privacy settings where the FRIEND couldn’t view any of my info, the pictures stopped (because he now has no access to any of my info).”

Perhaps this prooves there’s some human psychology involved. We are so predisposed to find patterns in things that it’s not unusual for people to claim they have found a pattern in random data, even after being told that it’s random and shown the method of generation (qv lottery numbers, etc). Still it’s interesting to see that people are not satisfied with the answer Facebook has given them and try to find out what this Facebook algorithm could be. I also asked Facebook what they think of these comments and will keep you posted.

* Only the friends listed in YOUR profile page when YOU’re logged in, are taken into consideration, not the friends listed when someone else is viewing your page. This is another algorithm and I guess another myth.

** You can find comments on this subject at Shareweb20,Shareweb20.com2, Yahoo,Yahoo2,Facebook,Yahoo3, or google the words “Facebook personal page, friends, algorithm, stalker and order/selection”.

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