Why I decided to like everything on Facebook and what happened.
Since June 26th I have liked almost everything my friends posted on Facebook. I was later disheartened when I saw that Wired had decided to do a
similar write-up. However, after a bit of contemplation, I realize that maybe this is a conversation more people might be interested in having than I thought. In this article I will discuss the reasons behind WHY I liked everything on facebook, as well as what happened as a result of liking everything on Facebook. The results were both surprising and thought-provoking.
I initially manually liked posts. However, I felt that I was still being discerning and also felt like coding something just for the fun of it. I chose to automate the process of liking everything my friends posted on Facebook by creating a PHP script to do the work for me (this is a programming blog). This PHP script runs on an hourly cron job on my raspberry pi. I decided to use Facebook’s own graph API to get a list of all my friends’ posts. This required me to get an access token from Facebook. I did this by making a html page that prompts the user to grant access, then displays the Facebook token in a popup window. I then took this access token and hard coded it into the cron job, because it’s passed as an argument into the script. This was to handle the case where I may have multiple accounts I wanted to like friends posts on. I had to ask for all sorts of extended permission though, so I doubt this would ever get approved as a real facebook app. I needed publish_actions and read_stream in order to ‘like’ a post and get the permissions to begin with.
The ‘wall’ on Facebook is a custom sorted feed sent by Facebook. The only way to access that list of friends’ posts, as well as ads, would be to scrape the page. The graph API does provide access to friends’ posts, via the url https://graph.facebook.com/me/home. However, this does not list the same posts that I see on my wall. My wall also displays differing content based on whether I’m using the mobile or desktop version. There’s nothing I could do here (save for scraping the page). If a post isn’t supplied to me I can’t like it. That’s okay, I figure that if I hit 80% of my friends’ posts that it would be sufficient for my needs. It’s not like this is a commercial product, after all.
I also choose to not like anything they shared or anything they liked. I can’t tell if a post is a shared post by if status_type is set to shared_story. I figured stuff like this out just by reading the json that comes back and then looking for that post on my wall. The script only likes original content.
Well, I did this for a couple of reasons actually. First, I did it to mess with Facebook’s algorithms. I do not want Facebook knowing too much about me. I figure I have two choices, stop liking anything, or like everything. This way Facebook only knows me by my connections, which is most likely more important than knowing what my favorite TV show is.
Second, I did it because I thought there might be some side benefit to liking all my friends’ Facebook posts. Maybe more of my posts might get liked, or I might get invited to more things, or even just have better conversations.
Shouldn’t we all like everything our friends post?
And last, I did this because sort of felt that this was the right thing to do. I facebook befriended these people, and all of their posts deserve to get liked. Not just posts that Facebook decided I want to see or the posts that I intentionally won’t like myself (AKA pictures of your kids). I anticipated that this friendly script would be heralded as a gift. The gift of free likes. ‘Ol’ Chuck is so generous with his likes!’ I imagined them declaring. I envisioned my friends feeling much better about themselves, knowing that at least one person liked their post. When was the last time any of my posts got 100 likes even though I have over 100 friends? There are reasons that people don’t like a status update, and I don’t think it’s because they hate the person or the text or even the idea. It’s a laziness we all have when there are hundreds of new wall posts to capture our attention every day. We need to filter. So what happens when that filter is off? I needed to know.
OK, great, what happened though.
Well, unlike Wired’s result, my feed did not change too much. My script doesn’t like random pages that Facebook shows me, only posts that my friends made. That would explain why I didn’t get a lot of weird posts in my timeline. I did start to see posts from friends I have barely had any contact with on Facebook previously. In fact, by the end, most of the posts I see are from people I’m not very close to, so I think this part of the reason I started using Facebook less.
I think another reason I am not using Facebook much is because when I look at my feed, and I see that every posts has already been liked, I just lose interest. Even though I know I haven’t seen these posts yet, I just don’t care. I get bored and leave. In essence, the script worked; my Facebook is automated. Time to go outside and live life I guess.
I also got PM’d quite a bit late at night, when people who saw me stalking their posts thought I was awake. Sorry, If I’m awake past 10pm I will make a post about how much insomnia sucks. I did not intend to deceive people. Liking a post manually versus by way of an automated script is not much different than asking ‘How are you’ when you actually don’t care at all about how they are. It’s a courtesy. A way to say ‘I’m with you sista!’.
I also received quite a few comments asking me to turn it off. I guess for some people they get a lot of alerts that I am liking their stuff, so basically, this script ends up spamming them. Also, since they know it’s a bot and not me (I did like some stuff manually) I guess it’s not really exciting to see that I (it) liked their posts. I contemplated adding some restrictions to the script. Ways I could have it only like certain users posts, or black list other users, etc. But it was summer and life got in the way.
Facebook feels like Myspace now.
Some people have claimed that originally they started liking my posts because I have been liking theirs, but that faded pretty quick when people started figuring out it was automated. If I had throttled it down a bit and not let on what I was doing no one would have probably noticed a thing. However that isn’t very ethical, and I like telling people what I’m working on too much to not tell them.
I initially set out to let this script run forever, just liking every post it hasn’t seen in the past hour, 24 times a day. After several complaints I decided to let it run out after the token expired, which should have been 60 days. However, since it has not expired like expected, I went ahead and manually pulled the plug.
Facebook is not my sociology experiment. My friends are not my lab rats. It’s kind of funny that I say that, because Facebook has used it’s members in experiments. My source is up on Github if anyone wants to run it themselves. I’m debating writing an auto ‘Happy Birthday’ poster. Yes, I know they already exist, but I like the challenge. And I don’t think anyone will catch on to that one.
Facebook is so utterly boring to me anymore, though. I truthfully was pretty actively engaged before all this. I’m definitely less engaged now though. I might change the script so that I only like a percentage of a persons posts, and make it so the script only runs between 8am and 5pm. However, like I said, I just do not care that much anymore. Facebook feels to me now the way Myspace felt to me the day I found Facebook.