How Years of Incessant Facebook 'Liking' Changes Your Newsfeed

If two days can change your newsfeed, what does three years of incessant "liking" do? It depends on your strategy.

Aug 12 2014, 4:00pm

Image: Flickr/Thomas Angermann

Mat Honan of Wired recently ran an experiment: he "liked" everything that popped up on his Facebook newsfeed for two days, just to see what happened.

"I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours," Honan wrote. "Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it."

Honan embarked on his mission to discover what effect it would have on his newsfeed, which he calls "a highly curated-presentation." After a while, he found that sites feeding on viral content saturated his feed. "Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post," he noted. He found the feeds on his desktop and mobile were distinctly different, and eventually that they just became "deeply stupid."

After reading the piece, I immediately thought of an acquaintance of mine (he asked not to be named) who has gained a reputation for "liking" everything that his friends do on Facebook. He doesn't touch any of the content from fan pages or news sites, but enthusiastically likes all the stuff his friends post.

In response to the Wired piece, I wanted to ask him more about his fandom of clicking the little blue thumb and whether it had changed his experience of the site at all. So I reached out to him, over Facebook (obviously).

"It's probably about 75 percent of the stuff that comes up on my feed," he said. "I guess it's kind of chosen, I tend to actually like most things in real life, and my general acceptance of statuses and comments is that no matter how mundane, or seemingly non-useful they might seem, there is something to 'like' in almost all content."

"For example, today I've bypassed a lot of the samey Robin Williams coverage and found a gem of a status update asking for advice on a bike lock," he added.

I first noticed my acquaintance's like obsession a few years ago, when I realized I kept getting notifications from someone I knew but didn't hang out with that much. An ex-girlfriend's sister's ex-boyfriend, he's a nice guy, and we'd been at the same parties, but that was about it. He was liking my photos, my albums, my statuses, the links I shared, my posts on other people's walls—everything.

"I'd guess [it's been] about three years," he told me. "It's hard to tell now as I've gone back on most of my friends' pages and liked a lot of their history."

I noticed that he was doing the same to our mutual friends, leaving a trace of his presence on nearly everybody's content in my newsfeed. Once the ability to like comments rolled out, he conquered that land too, even liking his own. If he could like his likes, I'm sure he would.

"I'm honestly not sure [why I started]," he said. "Perhaps it was a steady curve, first I liked sporadically, then more frequently, until finally I was liking pretty much all my friends' stuff that appears on my feed."

It became a running joke, that anything I or my friends posted would near-instantaneously be rubber stamped by his insistent clicking. Years later, it's still going.

my newsfeed is percentage-wise more filled with simple statuses and photos than most people's.

I asked him if his newsfeed has filled with big brands, as was the case with Honan, and he said he specifically avoids those pages because of the fact that they take over a feed so quickly.

"I don't tend to like the communal Buzzfeed, Daily Mash or specific Facebook pages," he said. "I don't really find it interesting and a lot of the content and all of the format is samey."

"As I generally just like friends' stuff rather than brands, I wouldn't say it's changed my newsfeed," he said. "If anything, my blocking of the common shared pages (Huffington Post etc.) means that my newsfeed is probably percentage-wise more filled with simple statuses and photos than most people's."

Although his newsfeed may not have changed that much, my experience, on the receiving end of his clicking, has. Over the months, I've noticed that the amount of content of mine that my friend likes has decreased. Assuming he hasn't consciously decided to avoid liking whatever I post, Facebook's algorithms must have pushed me further down the queue of curated pictures, links and statuses.

It's not really something to lament—checking your notifications to see that it's just "that guy that likes everything" can sometimes be annoying—but it is a reminder of how flexible the newsfeed is, even when it comes to the content of real people and not just brands.

Overall, it turns out that instead of the ad-bombarding nightmare of Honan's newsfeed, my friend's closer resembles what Facebook used to be before it became a platform for Upworthy posts and celebrity fan pages. It's populated with the content of, well, his friends.

"It's probably made me care less about the external links, news stories and lists that people post on Facebook and care more about their lives in the posts that they make and the photos they share," he said. "Some of my favourite stories on Facebook these days are ones I probably would have deemed boring before."

This is of course because he's only clicking on content made by his contacts, rather than Honan's experiment with related content. But it's a case study of how it is possible to control what you see in your newsfeed to some degree—so long as you choose your many 'likes' a little more selectively.