I was emailed by a friend a couple of days ago. She has an abolitionist vegan education Facebook page which she started a number of years ago. She was asking for my opinion about her page, which appears to have completely stalled over the last couple of months. Her page has a healthy membership, and up until recently it had a steady increase in page “likes”, and a good organic “reach”.
Social Site Pages Stalling: Putting a bushel over the light.
Up until this email from my friend about her Facebook page stalling, I thought this problem was only affecting my own abolitionist vegan education page “LiveVegan”. I had heard that this issue was affecting other (non-vegan) pages, but I noted other vegan pages on Facebook appeared to be still gaining “likes” each day. I had heard Facebook had changed the algorithms for its ‘news feed’ and so I experimented a little, but it didn’t seem to matter if I posted an image, a link or shared someone else’s work, it didn’t matter if I changed my page settings or if I posted more human social justice content, or less, or none at all. It didn’t matter if I posted more vegan content, nothing brought my page out of its stall.
I wondered if Facebook was, for some reason, blocking my page from ‘recommended pages’ ‘suggested pages’ or from ‘news feeds’. I knew Facebook sometimes ‘adjusts’ settings and so on behind the scenes. Unsurprisingly, I contacted Facebook numerous times but they have not responded to my emails. Also unsurprisingly, there appears to be no direct way to contact anyone from Facebook. Some people have even turned up at their offices in California and the admin have refused to see them. I thought maybe some of my political and human social justice content on LiveVegan over the last 5 months might have been the issue, but the content really is not much different than it has been over the last 5 years. As well as addressing speciesism, my page has always opposed racism, sexism, Islamophobia, nationalism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of bigotry because it is a logical extension of justice to do so. All forms of discrimination are related and are faces of the same ignorance. (Of the many accusations levelled at vegans, one is that we do not care about human rights issues. As an abolitionist vegan, that’s not my experience.) I thought maybe it was a temporary lull, (which has happened in the past) but at this point I don’t think so. Up until 5 months ago LiveVegan was gaining approximately 80 or more members (“likes”) per day and there were lulls where “page likes” only increased by 15-20 per day and there were periods where “likes” increased by 250 people per day. Then suddenly it completely stalled and has been stuck around 58,800/58,840 for the last 4 or 5 months and now most of the time it is literally going backwards by one or two people daily.
Why should this disturb me? Because I’m an abolitionist vegan and being able to reach as many of the non-vegan public as possible with a clear, morally consistent, abolitionist vegan message is very important to me. So I feel somewhat (albeit temporarily) hobbled by these recent events. Abolitionist vegan education is crucial in changing our society’s deeply-held speciesist ideology that nonhuman animals are our resources, our property, and our belief that it is morally justifiable to exploit animals as long as it is done “humanely”. Face-to-face vegan education is important of course, but quite limited in its reach, particularly if it is done through a stall located in the same place month after month. On the other hand the internet reaches far more people including those who don’t want (or are unable to have) face-to-face contact and who want to investigate the issue at their leisure. As we know, the internet can be a powerful tool which can promote social change and which allows communication with tens of thousands of people. On Facebook there’s over 1 billion users. Many people who initially join vegan pages, join out of a mild curiosity and are usually not vegan, so making it as easy as possible for them to access page content is very important and a precious opportunity. Because abolitionist veganism is in its infancy, there are very few abolitionist pages around online at this time so it is very important that abolitionist vegan voices be heard. That’s why for me, the issue of my page stalling and my friend’s abolitionist page stalling is somewhat depressing and disturbing to say the least.
Facebook, the internet, search algorithms, and the profit motive
I have never made any financial gain at all from any vegan education efforts, I never will and don’t want to, not even donations. I believe goals of fund-raising will always conflict with education based on ethical principles. We only have to observe how all large animal charities are far more interested in growing their business, paying their salaries, entertaining celebrities at their functions, and bringing in donations via their non-vegan donors than promoting the issue they supposedly initially formed to address. Of course donations are beneficial in relation to vegan rescue sanctuaries where the donations go toward the care of refugees of domestication, or toward printing vegan education material. In principle, I believe pages on the internet that are not making any financial gain and that are engaged in public education should be able to exist, have equal exposure, and be heard without paying for advertising. But public education is often viewed as anti-capitalist. If you have an informed public, you do not have a public which will consume, consume, consume!.
As Professor Noam Chomsky says
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”
On a personal level, I also cannot afford to take out page advertisements and I do not like being coerced. Despite Facebook’s regular attempts to coerce me in to taking out paid advertisements for my page LiveVegan, I will not be paying for advertising. I oppose the attempt to create a “two-tiered” internet.
Desire for profit-maximisation drives the “positioning” of Facebook. It wants to be a purveyor of commercial advertising. It also claims it wants to be a “reputable news” provider. This is one of the more obvious reasons behind the changing of its algorithms. The hidden motivations I will discuss later. The Facebook algorithms have changed the content in users ‘news feed’. User ‘news feeds’ favour “articles of interest” or what the algorithms favour, over what users have subscribed to (“friends” updates and page updates the user has “liked”). Until these changes took place, Facebook’s ‘news feed’ was reasonably unfiltered and allowed users to view page updates via their ‘news feed’ from pages they were interested in. But that changed when Facebook decided to give preference in user ‘news feeds’ to content that contained images or links. More recently, Facebook seems to give preference to “news” from mainstream media news organisations, side-lining more alternative independent news voices like Breaking the Set or Democracy Now or Truthdig. I’ve noticed that these alternative voices no longer appear in my ‘news feed’, nor does most of the content from pages I’ve “liked” (unless I select “get notifications”).
When my friend found her page had stalled, she did some research online and found that tales of Facebook pages “dying” (so to speak) are not uncommon since Facebook has made these changes to its algorithms over the last year or so. These algorithm changes do not appear to affect all Facebook pages at once, but appear to be selectively “picking them off” so to speak, probably so as not to draw too much attention to this process. They seem to be applied to different pages at random. Page stalling doesn’t seem to be related to any particular issue, but the common denominator is that it is affecting those who do not take out paid Facebook advertisements.
Facebook obviously arbitrarily changes their algorithms. This means that not only do members of *some* pages not see most of their “liked” page’s updates/content in their ‘news feed’, but the pages themselves are not appearing in “recommended pages” or “suggested pages”. This means *some* pages are not receiving any real exposure except for the small percentage of their members — who are lucky enough to see their page ‘news feed’ updates–, and then share this content with their friends. Clicking “get notifications” is a partial remedy to ensure users get all the content they’re interested in, but the system is not designed for this. Instead of content articles appearing when you open Facebook, you have to click on something, and then get a list, which might include over a hundred entries depending on your interests and how often you check in, and then you have to scroll down a list. Users can also create a favourite list. It’s a little awkward and intended to be less user friendly. Most users don’t realise they probably need to take extra steps if they wish to receive all page updates they are interested in, other than “liking” the page.
Using Social Media for Social Change
I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little about some of the broader issues with Facebook. From the perspective of social change, this issue of “reach” is the major problem. Facebook has stated that it wants to be a “reputable news provider” so one change they have made (without our consent) is to ‘adjust’ our ‘news feed’ to selectively favour “news” over anything else. To ensure they become a “reputable news” source, Facebook continuously conducts ‘news feed’ surveys asking users what they “want to see” and what they “do not want to see” and so forth. They do this from a limited set of choices, appearing to be “responsive”, while effectively shutting down any opinions that might contradict or challenge mainstream opinion and / or might challenge the mainstream media official narrative. Facebook even takes the opportunity during these user surveys to advertise, by asking users if they think “this post looks like an advertisement”. Three out of eight posts in a ‘news feed’ survey I looked at today were obviously ads. Did they just want us to look at them, or are they trying to tailor them to be more “sneaky”, to “not look like ads”?
Not only is the commercialisation obvious, but the favouring and focus on mainstream opinion silences or swamps other voices. This has a huge effect on those independent voices/pages that are using Facebook to communicate with a wider public, something that has become increasingly difficult as protest marches and public actions are given less and less coverage due to corporate media bias, and protests have become more difficult to organise. Social justice and social change campaigns use social media to communicate. Changes to social media that obstruct that communication obstruct social change. It is particularly odious when the obstruction is between those who have something to say, and those who clearly would like to hear it.
Prior to these ‘news feed’ manipulations, many Facebook users, after indicating their support/approval of a page or a social justice issue by “liking” that page, would then see all new content from their favourite pages each day in their ‘news feed’. Prior to these ‘news feed’ manipulations, my page LiveVegan with a membership of over 55K generally had an organic “reach” for new content of the majority of my page members. Eighty to ninety-five percent of membership numbers (45,000-50,000 people) actually saw a new post, though I can’t tell if those people were members (had “liked”) my page or not. With changes to the ‘news feed’, and to “recommended pages” and “suggested pages”, this no longer happens. At best, now every tenth LiveVegan post might be seen by 1,500 (1.5%), but the “reach” of the majority of my posts reach is only between 50 and 500. That means very few people ever get to see my content, new posters, blogs, or articles.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve also noticed I no longer ever see page updates from most of the pages I’ve subscribed to (“liked”). These pages, like LiveVegan, are mainly social-justice related pages, generally organised by small groups or individuals, rather than NGOs or non-profit companies, and don’t get donations. They have vanished from my ‘feed’, and I no longer see them unless I visit their pages (or click “get notifications”). And note, many of these have memberships of tens, or hundreds of thousands, sometimes over a million. They are/have been major sources of information and ideas for many people. I know in my own page, the number of people who see my new content has dropped from tens of thousands, to hundreds, or even tens of people with no change in my content or volume of my posts. With a membership of 58k+, one would think more than 56 individuals (0.1%) would see a new post. That is what I mean when I say I no longer get seen.
If it weren’t for other pages sharing my content, I think these stats would be much worse ;-) Frequently, the numbers that are “reached” on other pages where my page content is shared, greatly exceed the numbers that see the original content on my page. This can be somewhat disconcerting at times, when membership on pages where my work is shared is 10% of the membership of my own page. And sadly it seems the only way those page owners who share my work can actually view my LiveVegan content is if they have clicked “get notifications”, or actually visit my page on a regular basis.
Over time I have considered the possible reasons why LiveVegan has stalled, when some others, with similar content, have not, but there appears to be no discernible reason. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve done searches on the problem, and while seeing that others are experiencing similar issues, there is no apparent answer. It seems there is nothing a page experiencing this can do to remedy it. People point to Facebook’s algorithm changes, but can’t suggest how to avoid or use the changes to increase reach. Apocryphal stories (which I will talk about later) are told about contracts with the US military for experiments in which ‘news feed’ and reach is manipulated, to find out how Facebook users react. No-one seems to actually know, but the fact is, some pages simply don’t get communicated, even to those who indicate they support them. Unless of course, they pay for advertisements.
Manipulation and Control
The issue of paid advertisements is another problem. There is now abundant evidence that companies have been established to increase “likes” on pages, but they do so by teams of people in call centres creating false identities and “liking” pages simply to increase numbers. These are “empty” likes, and they cause significant concern to businesses, because they increase costs without generating sales. Because it concerns money, there are many references and articles about these ads, and “empty likes”, and dozens of articles can be found by searching online.
To give you an idea of what Facebook is able to do without our consent or knowledge, in early 2012 it was revealed, around 689,000 Facebook user accounts were manipulated by business researchers where user’s ‘news feeds’ were analysed for positive versus negative ‘news feed’ content. The content was then adjusted to make it go from one extreme to another. Some users received mostly positive posts in their feeds, and others received mostly negative posts. Later it was uncovered that one of the researchers conducting this Facebook mind study on unsuspecting users was Jeffrey T. Hancock of Cornell University. He was connected to the Pentagon and the Department of Defense-funded program the “Minerva Research Initiative”. He also conducted a similar study entitled ‘Modeling Discourse and Social Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes’.
Why is the Department of Defense “Minerva Research Initiative” using Facebook in its research?
Nafeez Ahmet in the Guardian wrote a piece in June 2014. Here’s an excerpt:
A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”
Should we be worried by this and other invasions into our private lives such as the revelations by Edward Snowden of mass surveillance by the NSA? Of course we should. Lyrics to a song “Digital” by UK band “Joy Division” come to mind: “Feel it closing in”. ;-)
But back to the Facebook ‘news feed’ manipulation experiment from 2012. Here’s a small excerpt of their conclusions :
“These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”
Facebook submitted its experiment to what they claim is an appropriate review board, and their proposal was approved “on the grounds that Facebook filters user news feeds all the time, per the agreement”.
As the saying goes, ‘the devil is in the detail’. In Facebook Data Use Policy, Facebook’s terms of service (to which every person agrees when they register on the social network), users’ data may be used “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”(RT) Facebook claims its users have legally consented to Facebook editing our ‘news feeds’ in any way they see fit and that they have the right to manipulate our ‘news feed’ (without our knowledge) to evoke any number of emotional responses.
Closing LiveVegan Page?
Which leads me to my decision which is, that if my LiveVegan page is still floating around the 58,800 / 58,840 “likes” mark as it has been doing the last 4 or 5 months, and if the organic “reach” continues to be very limited and that only a very small percentage (around 1% ) of page content via ‘news feed’ is actually reaching page members, then mostly I am just talking to myself. And if that is the case, my time spent making content for LiveVegan could be best spent doing vegan education elsewhere. If this seems to be the case, then I will probably shut down LiveVegan in the beginning of the new year. Hopefully I will find some other, more effective, ways of reaching the public with vegan education. I read somewhere that “Ello” (a new social media platform) is receiving a lot of attention and that it is reportedly receiving thousands of new members each day, but who knows how it will pan out or if it will be suitable. It seems to be one online option for disenchanted Facebook users. Of course if it gains the popularity that Facebook enjoys, it too will probably be corrupted. The cancer of capitalism.
The purpose of my abolitionist vegan page has always been to provide clear, morally consistent abolitionist vegan education for the non-vegan public. Although I hope LiveVegan has been of some support to vegans, the original purpose of LiveVegan has always been public (abolitionist) vegan education. So if my page content is not even reaching most of its members who subscribe to it, and if LiveVegan is not getting any air time as a “recommended page” or a “suggested page” then my target audience — those who are non-vegan who might be vaguely interested in veganism- will not be reached this way.
Facebook algorithm changes have not effected all vegan pages as yet, but one has to wonder when that might change, and it doesn’t seem to have as much to do with content as with intentional coercion to get users on Facebook to take out paid advertisements. If another social media platform existed which had the reach of Facebook I would be there instead, because over time I have developed a real loathing for Facebook with it’s lack of privacy, its NSA and Department of Defense connections, it’s contempt for social education/change, its intentional censorship via “news feed”, and its overall censorship for advertising dollars.
In closing, I want to take this opportunity to thank those who have been following LiveVegan over the last 5 years. I appreciate the support. I’ve received some lovely appreciative emails over the years, many of them by people who have said they decided to go vegan, and that LiveVegan assisted them in this decision. This is the BEST news I could receive and makes me very happy indeed. Influencing people to become vegan is the reason I spend so much time doing vegan education. Even if the outcome of my page meant that only one person became (abolitionist) vegan for life, then that’s success to me. I hope that people will share the many images I’ve made over the years because that’s the reason I create them each day. :) I hope over the last five years LiveVegan on Facebook has been beneficial in some small way. I’ve worked each day (since 2006 before LiveVegan) on providing content or sharing content. I’ve been – 99% of the time – the sole moderator and content provider for LiveVegan and it’s been my pleasure to do so. I’m disappointed and very concerned that it seems more and more commonplace that corporations control a lot of public information access and are doing their best to put a price on everything and keep the public uninformed while maintaining the status quo.
The irony here is that this blog post may not reach most LiveVegan Facebook members. ;-) However, for those interested, I will let you know when (or if) I make a decision to shut down LiveVegan on Facebook, and if I plan to start something, somewhere else. But whatever my decision, I personally will continue to promote veganism whenever and wherever I most effectively can, online and offline. I hope you will do the same. Until then, please click “get notifications” under the “like” button, share information, and subscribe to my blog “Veganism is Nonviolence”. Also consider contacting Facebook – and although it’s unlikely anything will change – register a complaint about their algorithm changes which are negatively impacting a number of social justice pages.
And remember that it is all about other animals and ending the last great slavery, so if you think other animals morally matter at all, then you must be vegan. If you are not vegan, please go vegan. It will be one of the best decisions you make in your life. Please educate yourself on the issues so you can share a morally consistent vegan message with others. A vegan world is possible and it’s up to all of us to educate others in as many creative, nonviolent and non-speciesist ways as we can to make it happen.