On Thursday, Facebook announced yet another change to its secretive News Feed algorithm. The latest change will favor “personally informative stories” based in part on feedback from the feed quality program, a team of hundreds of regular users who rank about 60 posts from their own News Feeds each day on a one-to-five scale, based on how interesting they find the content. Insights from the feed quality program, which Facebook says is demographically representative of its U.S. user base, are an increasingly important tool for making the News Feed more engaging for all users. Here, Ringer writer Victor Luckerson submits a cover letter applying for a job in said program.
Aug. 12, 2016
Dear Mr. Mark Zuckerberg,
As a Facebook user for nearly nine years, I am distinctly qualified to serve as a member of the feed quality program. I have watched Facebook mature from a social network where college and high school students “poke” each other flirtatiously into a global tech giant that has unprecedented influence over political discourse, media consumption, and even basic human emotions — which is, of course, great. My long tenure as a Facebook user gives me a unique perspective on the social network’s history. I still refer to a Timeline post as “writing on someone’s wall,” I remember the social havoc wreaked by Honesty Box, and I recall the Great Facebook Redesign Backlash of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and yes, even 2012. I was a Facebook user before the invention of the “Like” button — a key metric in determining the ranking of News Feed posts — so I recall the primitive era in which Facebook was a voyeuristic platform for slyly tracking the activities of others rather than a self-indulgent megaphone where every aspect of a person’s life is given a public, measurable score. We’ve come a long way.
In addition to being an avid Facebook user, I have significant knowledge of the inner workings of News Feed thanks to a 2015 visit to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters to meet with the News Feed team. We were not able to chat at that time but I did talk to your right-hand-bro, chief product officer Chris Cox, who laid out the vision for News Feed to me in an interview: “If you could rate everything that happened on Earth today that was published anywhere by any of your friends, any of your family, any news source … and then pick the 10 that were the most meaningful to know today, that would be a really cool service for us to build. That is really what we aspire to have News Feed become.”
I want to help you achieve this vision, and my knowledge of how the News Feed algorithm works will help me do so. For instance, your employees divulged to me that the ranking of News Feed posts is broadly determined by three factors: how close you are to a given user, how often you engage with a specific post type, and whether a certain post is attracting wide engagement on the social network. I understand intuitively how this mix of factors means that no two News Feeds are alike, yet we are all subject to esteem-killing engagement announcements, humblebraggy new job posts, and baby photos. Many of your users don’t understand this — a 2013 study found that 62 percent of Facebook users didn’t know that their feed was being controlled by an algorithm. To paraphrase avid social media user Drake, these fives need to listen when a 10 is talking (you and your News Feed FYI blog are the 10, Mr. Zuckerberg).
Because I write Content for the Internet (capitalization mine), I am already well-versed in the many seemingly arbitrary changes you have made to the News Feed algorithm. I know that on August 11, you announced that you would begin giving greater precedence to posts that users found “informative,” even though on June 29 you said you were going to prioritize posts by “friends you care about.” I have also personally celebrated other factors you have added to the algorithm, including the assumption that I want to see lots and lots of live video. That you could divine that I, a writer, want to watch lots and lots of live video while on Facebook is a testament to your user-first ideology.
I know that the feed quality program job involves scoring 60 News Feed posts on a one-to-five scale every day, based on how interesting I find the posts. I fucking love ranking things, which makes me particularly qualified for this role. To give you an understanding of my scale, a five would be a link to torrent a new Kanye West album, my own engagement announcement, and general crush content. A one would be a Twitter cross-post, anything concerning Auburn football, and general ex content. The fact that my personal whims help dictate what 1.1 billion people in the world will see when they log into Facebook each day seems perfectly fair, and is in fact one of the things that makes me most excited about the job.
Some people have claimed that Facebook should make it clearer to users that their News Feed is being controlled by an algorithm they have little control over. Some people warn that Facebook’s general bias toward content that is worthy of a “Like” can drown out substantive discussions about complex topics. Some people worry that Facebook’s growing bias toward videos in its News Feed is more about maximizing revenue via video ads than meeting the needs of users.
Those people are crazy!
All in all, these advantages make me an ideal candidate to be a member of the feed quality program and rank the quality of News Feed posts. Attached you will find a portfolio of Facebook posts which show my dedication to the network, including an ambiguous romantic post from 2008 that ends in ellipsis, a BuzzFeed listicle from 2011, and photos depicting various levels of drunkenness from 2008 to present.
I look forward to discussing the details of this role in greater detail. Also, I’m black, so, you know.