I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for 2 Days. Here’s What It Did to Me.
There’s this great Andy Warhol quote you’ve probably seen before: “I think everybody should like everybody.” You can buy posters and plates with pictures of Warhol, looking like the cover of a Belle & Sebastian album, with that phrase plastered across his face in Helvetica. But the full quote, taken from a 1963 interview in Art News, is a great description of how we interact on social media today.
Warhol: Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It’s happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way.
I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody.
Art News: Is that what pop art is all about?
Warhol: Yes. It’s liking things.
Art News: And liking things is like being a machine?
Warhol: Yes, because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again.
The like and the favorite are the new metrics of success — very literally. Not only are they ego-feeders for the stuff we put online as individuals, but advertisers track their campaigns on Facebook by how often they are liked. A recent New York Times story on a krill oil ad campaign lays bare how much the like matters to advertisers. Liking is an economic act.
I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked — even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. I know this sounds like a stunt (and it was) but it was also genuinely just an open-ended experiment. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up (48 hours was all I could stand) or what I’d learn (possibly nothing.)
See, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what shows up in your feed. It isn’t just a parade of sequential updates from your friends and the things you’ve expressed an interest in. In 2014 the News Feed is a highly curated presentation, delivered to you by a complicated formula based on the actions you take on the site, and across the Web. I wanted to see how my Facebook experience would change if I constantly rewarded the robots making these decisions for me, if I continually said, “Good job, robot, I like this.” I also decided I’d do this only on Facebook itself — trying to hit every Like button I came across on the open web would just be too daunting. But even when I kept the experiment to the site itself, the results were dramatic.
One thing I had to decide right away was what to do about the related items that appear after you’ve liked something. Let’s say you like a story about cows that you see on Modern Farmer. Facebook will immediately present you with four more options to like things below that cow story, “relateds” in Facebook parlance. Probably more stories about cows or agriculture.