Something is puzzling on Facebook.
Early last year, soon after Facebook instituted a feature that let people subscribe to others' feeds without being friends, I quickly amassed a healthy "subscriber" list of about 25,000 people.
Every Sunday morning, I started sharing my weekly column with this newfound entourage. Those garnered a good response. For example, a column about my 2012 New Year's resolution to take a break from electronics gathered 535 "likes" and 53 "reshares." Another, about Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and chief executive, owing me $50 after the company's public offering, quickly drew 323 likes and 88 reshares.
Since then, my subscribers have grown to number 400,000. Yet now, when I share my column, something different happens. Guess how many people like and reshare the links I post?
If your answer was more than two digits long, you're wrong.
From the four columns I shared in January, I have averaged 30 likes and two shares a post. Some attract as few as 11 likes. Photo interaction has plummeted, too. A year ago, pictures would receive thousands of likes each; now, they average 100. I checked the feeds of other tech bloggers, including MG Siegler of TechCrunch, and reporters from The New York Times, and the same drop in interaction has occurred.
What changed? I recently tried a little experiment. I gave Facebook $7 to promote my column to my friends using the company's sponsored advertising tool.
To my surprise, I saw a 1,000 percent increase in the interaction on a link I posted, which had 130 likes and 30 reshares in just a few hours. It seems as if Facebook is not only promoting my links on news feeds when I pay for them, but also possibly suppressing the ones I do not pay for.
Facebook proudly informed me in a message that 5.2 times as many people had seen my post because I had paid the company to show it to them. Gee whiz. Thanks, Facebook.
This may be great news for advertisers, but I felt slightly duped. I've stayed on Facebook after its repeated privacy violations partly because I foolishly believed there was some sort of democratic approach to sharing freely with others. I feel as if the company persuaded us to share under that premise and is now turning it inside out by requiring us to pay for people to see what we post.
Facebook takes a different view, saying that it is still finding the right balance for the algorithm that decides what people see in their news feeds.
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