How Do Rumors Spread on Facebook?

How do rumors propagate on Facebook? And what propels them to go viral? One component seems to be whether people try to stop false rumors by linking to Snopes.com debunking such a rumor. From the Facebook Data Science team, their blog post and paper titled “Rumor Cascades” explains:

Tracking rumors on Facebook requires two types of information: a corpus of known rumors, and a sample of reshare cascades circulating on Facebook which can be matched to the corpus. The website Snopes.com has diligently documented thousands of rumors, and provides the starting point for our analysis. To match known rumors to this anonymized set of reshare cascades, we identify uploads and reshares that have been snoped — someone linked to a Snopes.com article in a comment. Those comments are posted by people to either warn their friends that something they posted is inaccurate or to the contrary, to validate that a rumor, though hard to believe, is in fact true. 

We gathered 250K comments, posted during July and August 2013 on 17K individual cascades, containing 62 million shares…

A summary from the abstract:

We find that receiving such a comment increases the likelihood that a reshare of a rumor will be deleted. Furthermore, large cascades are able to accumulate hundreds of Snopes comments while continuing to propagate. 

Happy 10th Birthday, Facebook

Today is the 10th anniversary of the founding of Facebook. The social network has come a long way, and in a blog post, Mark Zuckerberg reflects on its trajectory from a Harvard-only network to the worldwide use of it today:

When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it. 

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more. 

While some doubted that connecting the world was actually important, we were building. While others doubted that this would be sustainable, you were forming lasting connections. 

We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.

That last sentence? I believe it was true at the time, but it’s no longer as applicable. Today, as a public corporation, the customers/users are less important that the big shareholders. The biggest evidence I see of this is the repeated pronouncements by users who say their content is viewed/shared less after Facebook tweaked its algorithms. But, if you are willing to pay a few dollars, Facebook will make sure to show your posts in your fans’ news feed. That’s a far cry from really caring about caring to connect the world, if what I have to share/say with my friends/fans literally comes at a price.

 

What Apps and Services Does Barack Obama Think Young People Use?

A young associate editor at The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer, reflects on how he accidentally met Barack Obama at a local cafe. The takeaway of what the young people use (apps, services) seems to be in constant flux, but based on the subtitle of the piece, it seems “that even Obama knows young people don’t use Facebook anymore”:

Obama sat down at the head of the table. There was a brief photo op at the opposite end of the table. I surreptitiously took a picture to remember what being on the other side of a wall of cameras felt like, but now it seems more remarkable that I can see the president’s undershirt.

He had come to my local cafe to meet with five young people. According to White House background, provided to me after he left, they met to discuss how to get more 18-34 year-olds to sign up for the coverage under the Affordable Care Act. (The law depends on 18-34 year-olds signing up for healthcare.) One of the five was a navigator, someone employed to help families sign up; another helped explain the law at a mall over the holidays.

They talked about health care stuff for the first 20 minutes. The five shared their experiences, and some of them spoke quietly, so I couldn’t hear them that well.

At one point the president said, “Now, this isn’t public yet.” I perked up.

“Thirty percent of somethingsomethingsomething is mumblemumble,” he said.

I didn’t hear. I had failed as a journalist, so I went to the bathroom.

Failure

When I got back, they were talking about music. Circumstantial evidence indicates that, while I was in the bathroom, they talked about Beyoncé. 

The conversation moved on. They talked about cell phones, and Obama mentioned how Malia did not receive one until she was 16. One of the young people pointed out that, unlike most parents, the president could always argue that he’d know where she was.

They segued to talking about social media (I couldn’t hear their exact words).Now, I thought. Now I could do tech journalism.

The president said something—I could not hear all of it—about new social media apps that were for messaging, new apps that only somethingsomething’d for eight seconds.

“Snapchat,” said one of the young people.

The president made a comment about how different apps were now popular. Someone—it might have been the president—said the word “Instagram.” 

I guess that they were talking about the difficulty of doing political outreach on Snapchat or one of this newer, less textual ilk? I’m not sure. Then the president drops this:

“It seems like they don’t use Facebook anymore,” he said.

Facebook is so uncool even the president of the United States knows it.

I’ve been saying this for a while, but I am disliking using Facebook as of the last year or two. I prefer Twitter and Instagram.

The story is worth the click simply for that SnapChat photo at the end.

Facebook Knows Your Thoughts Even When You Don’t Share

A fascinating post on Slate explains how your unfinished thoughts on Facebook may be monitored by Facebook’s algorithms. Have you ever composed a status update, only decided to not click on publish? Gmail and other email clients do store your drafts, but it is unexpected (and not wholly beneficial) why Facebook would do that too.  The two people behind the “self-censorship” study are Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and summer software engineer intern at Facebook, and Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist. Slate summarizes:

It is not clear to the average reader how this data collection is covered by Facebook’s privacy policy. In Facebook’s Data Use Policy, under a section called “Information we receive and how it is used,” it’s made clear that the company collects information you choose to share or when you “view or otherwise interact with things.” But nothing suggests that it collects content you explicitly don’t share. Typing and deleting text in a box could be considered a type of interaction, but I suspect very few of us would expect that data to be saved. When I reached out to Facebook, a representative told me that the company believes this self-censorship is a type of interaction covered by the policy.

In their article, Das and Kramer claim to only send back information to Facebook that indicates whether you self-censored, not what you typed. The Facebook rep I spoke with agreed that the company isn’t collecting the text of self-censored posts. But it’s certainly technologically possible, and it’s clear that Facebook is interested in the content of your self-censored posts. Das and Kramer’s article closes with the following: “we have arrived at a better understanding of how and where self-censorship manifests on social media; next, we will need to better understand what and why.” This implies that Facebook wants to know what you are typing in order to understand it. The same code Facebook uses to check for self-censorship can tell the company what you typed, so the technology exists to collect that data it wants right now.

Revealing and very troubling, especially how prevalent the behavior is. From the paper:

We found that 71% of the 3.9 million users in our sample self-censored at least one post or comment over the course of 17 days, confirming that self-censorship is common. Posts are censored more than comments (33% vs. 13%).

On Facebook’s Massive Data Center near the Arctic

A fascinating look in Businessweek at Facebook’s data center in a Swedish town of Luleå (population 75,000), located about 70 miles from the Arctic Circle:

The heart of Facebook’s experiment lies just south of the Arctic Circle, in the Swedish town of Luleå. In the middle of a forest at the edge of town, the company in June opened its latest megasized data center, a giant building that comprises thousands of rectangular metal panels and looks like a wayward spaceship. By all public measures, it’s the most energy-efficient computing facility ever built, a colossus that helps Facebook process 350 million photographs, 4.5 billion “likes,” and 10 billion messages a day. While an average data center needs 3 watts of energy for power and cooling to produce 1 watt for computing, the Luleå facility runs nearly three times cleaner, at a ratio of 1.04 to 1. “What Facebook has done to the hardware market is dramatic,” says Tom Barton, the former chief executive officer of server maker Rackable Systems (SGI). “They’re putting pressure on everyone.”

There’s a reason why they chose this place:

The location has a lot to do with the system’s efficiency. Sweden has a vast supply of cheap, reliable power produced by its network of hydroelectric dams. Just as important, Facebook has engineered its data center to turn the frigid Swedish climate to its advantage. Instead of relying on enormous air-conditioning units and power systems to cool its tens of thousands of computers, Facebook allows the outside air to enter the building and wash over its servers, after the building’s filters clean it and misters adjust its humidity. Unlike a conventional, warehouse-style server farm, the whole structure functions as one big device.

To simplify its servers, which are used mostly to create Web pages, Facebook’s engineers stripped away typical components such as extra memory slots and cables and protective plastic cases. The servers are basically slimmed-down, exposed motherboards that slide into a fridge-size rack. The engineers say this design means better airflow over each server. The systems also require less cooling, because with fewer components they can function at temperatures as high as 85F. (Most servers are expected to keel over at 75F.)

Now you know where those photos and messages are stored!

Facebook “Like” Feature Is Protected Speech under the U.S. Constitution

The case is Bland v. Roberts, 12-1671, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Richmond), reported by Bloomberg:

Using Facebook Inc. (FB)’s “Like” feature to show support for a candidate in an election is protected speech under the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, issued its ruling today in a lawsuit brought by former employees of a sheriff’s office who said they lost their jobs because they supported their boss’s opponent, including by endorsing a campaign page on Facebook.

The appeals court reversed a lower court judge who said that simply clicking the “Like” button on a Facebook page didn’t amount to “a substantive statement” that warrants constitutional protection.

“Liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler said in today’s ruling. “It is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”

In simple terms: using Facebook’s “Like” is protected under the 1st Amendment.

On Our Feelings After Facebook Use

I’ve been reading a number of different studies that are in opposite camps about Facebook: on the one hand, Facebook helps us feel more social; on the other hand, Facebook depresses us. So which is it?

Maria Konnikova, writing in The New Yorker, summarizes that the answer isn’t black and white:

The key to understanding why reputable studies are so starkly divided on the question of what Facebook does to our emotional state may be in simply looking at what people actually do when they’re on Facebook. “What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are alsochanging things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

I would argue that “liking” things on Facebook has become the generic, zombie-like action that isn’t particularly social. Commenting on photos and posts, however, are examples of actively engaging with content.