Here we go again. There's a new viral hoax making its way around Facebook, and this one is particularly easy to believe. The new hoax claims that Facebook has changed its algorithms so that your news feed will be limited to only 26 (or, in some versions, 25) friends. The hoax message urges you to reply with a "hi" or an emoji so that your posts will continue to appear in the sender's news feed. It also invites you to pass the message along if you don't want your own news feed limited to only 26 (or 25) friends.
None of this is true. A Facebook representative told the Washington Post:
"Friends don't let friends copy and paste memes, and this one simply is not true. We rank News Feed based on how relevant each post might be to you, and while we've made some updates that could increase the number of posts you see from your friends, your News Feed isn't limited to 25 of them."
Why are so many people being taken in? One reason is recent revelations that the social network had become a channel for fake Russian accounts to disseminate false information with the apparent intention of deepening discord among Americans and influencing the 2016 election. In the wake of these findings, Facebook has been harshly criticized from many directions, including its own former executives.
In response to all this, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg devoted his traditional annual personal challenge for 2018 to fixing Facebook. One of the first fixes: A tweak to its algorithms to prioritize posts from your Facebook friends and demote posts published by brands or the media, in an effort to make Facebook more meaningful to its users. So people who are vaguely aware that Facebook recently overhauled its algorithms and may have noticed that their news feeds look different might easily believe that the social network is narrowing their news feeds to just 26 contacts.
And it's actually true that if you react to someone's post, Facebook takes that as a sign of interest and may prioritize that person's posts in the future--in your news feed, though not necessarily in theirs. On the other hand, the company announced recently that it would begin demoting posts that it considers "reaction bait," including posts that explicitly ask you to respond with a single word or an emoji. If that algorithm is working properly, it should be pushing the viral hoax to the bottom of users' news feeds. So far, though, the hoax seems to be getting plenty of visibility.
As an amusing twist--and a further reason people might easily believe this fake message--some versions claim to have checked it out on Snopes: "I checked Snopes... And yes it's TRUE... just respond 'Hi' in comments. Let's see if this fixes the issue." Anyone who takes a few moments to visit Snopes themselves will see that the opposite is true.
So if you get this message, feel free to ignore or flag it. Whatever you do, don't pass it along to anyone.
Meantime, if you're unhappy with the news feed the new algorithm is providing you, there is something you can do about that. Here's how to set your news feed preferences and get back to seeing the posts you like best.