Facebook formula gave anger five times weight of likes, documents show

Facebook’s formula made it so posts that people reacted angrily to were given more weight in what users would see than posts that users reacted to with just a simple push of the “like” icon, according to documents seen by The Washington Post.

The documents showed when Facebook introduced new reaction emojis to their platform, it changed what content was more heavily promoted toward users.

In 2017, Facebook introduced emojis people could use to react to a person’s post beyond the simple “like” button. A person was able to react with emojis that correlated to “angry,” “sad,” “haha,” “love” and “wow.”

If a person reacted with an emoji instead of the “like” button, the Facebook algorithm would see the post as five times more valuable and push similar content.

The documents showed Facebook staff immediately were skeptical of the plan, with one staffer saying it could open “the door to more spam/abuse/clickbait inadvertently,” according to The Post.

The documents were presented by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee and whistleblower, to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress.

The documents showed the subject of anger was highly debated in the company with executives appearing to sometimes take employees’ concerns into consideration and seemingly ignoring those concerns at other times. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even encouraged users to use the angry face emoji to react to posts they didn’t like, without the users knowing it would push more content they didn’t like.

There was a proposal to cut down the value of reaction emojis in 2019 but the idea was cut at the last moment, the documents showed.

“The voice of caution won out by not trying to distinguish different reaction types and hence different emotions,” a staffer said.

The weight of emojis was finally cut to only one and a half times greater than a “like” back in 2020.

“Like any optimization, there’s going to be some ways that it gets exploited or taken advantage of,” Lars Backstrom, a vice president of engineering at Facebook, told The Washington Post. “That’s why we have an integrity team that is trying to track those down and figure out how to mitigate them as efficiently as possible.”

The Hill has reached out to Facebook for comment.

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