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The Strangers in the Feed

I would really love to know how Facebook decides who to drop into the “People You May Know” slide show.  I do know a bunch of them — but anyone could deduce that once they see that we have 20 people in common.  A bunch I definitely don’t know, though I may have once liked a comment they left on a mutual friend’s wall.  And the vast majority are people I don’t know.  At all.

Interestingly, there are two people I’ve been waiting for Facebook to offer me; people from childhood that I know are on Facebook.  Why not just get it over with and friend them?  Because I’m more interested in seeing whether Facebook finds the connection than I have with re-connecting with them in the first place.  Your move, Facebook.

Anyway, Gizmodo had a strange story about the algorithm surfacing an unknown relative (a great aunt) for the author.  Unknown is truly the best way to describe it.  They had no one in common on Facebook, and the great aunt had married into the family.  But when the author reached out to the person because of the woman’s last name, it turned out that they were (somewhat) closely related.

The author writes,

Now, when I look at my friend recommendations, I’m unnerved not just by seeing the names of the people I know offline, but by all the seeming strangers on the list. How many of them are truly strangers, I wonder—and how many are connected to me in ways I’m unaware of. They are not people I know, but are they people I should know?

That’s how I feel looking at the list.  The ones I know?  I totally know why they’re there.  The ones where we have something in common like we once worked in the same place or we have mutual friends or we live in the same town?  They don’t make me wonder.  It’s the ones where we have nothing in common, no mutual friends, no shared spaces…

…What does Facebook know that I don’t know?

Have you ever gotten a creepy connection like the one in the article?


1 Middle Girl { 09.05.17 at 8:31 am }

I am routinely befuddled by FB’s suggestions.

2 marieke { 09.05.17 at 10:53 am }

I heard that facebook now matches you with people that are in the same spave as you arw. Like uour phones are. Very weird for counsellors and policeman I guess…

3 dubliner in deutschland { 09.05.17 at 12:11 pm }

That is unnerving! I’ve heard some similar weird stories where the person has wondered how on earth facebook knew that they knew such and such a person without anyone in common!

4 Raven { 09.05.17 at 2:35 pm }

Mr. Big and I were just talking about this. I have a bizarre story for you.

About a year before I met Mr. Big, I had a fling with a guy we’ll call Mojo. Mojo and I had a good, old fashioned fling – devoid of any meeting friends/family, social media or email connections. It was just fun, and short lived, and soon enough I was tired of the 12 year age gap and we parted ways. I have not even thought of Mojo for probably 8 years, and a year later Mr. Big came around and he became nothing more than a distant memory.

A couple weekends ago, Mr. Big was lamenting these suggestions and was reading off the names to me, incredulous at some of the random people included. Imagine my surprise when Mr. Big read out Mojo’s name. I checked, it was actually him. I have never told Mr. Big his full name, and they have absolutely nothing in common (except, a brief fling with me for one of them), and we live on opposite sides of the country (and they grew up – one in BC, the other in Manitoba) … there are literally zero reasons for FB to connect them to each other but somehow it did.

Weird, right???

5 chris { 09.05.17 at 3:37 pm }

Oh yes! I’m so glad you said this because I have one that’s been bothering me, now I can share it. LOL. I’m on Facebook. My husband is fairly anti social in life, and absolutely 100% anti social media. He is only on twitter because of @midnight (no, I kid you not). So, imagine my surprise when several weeks ago his ONE friend’s (they’ve been friends since jr. high but interact sporadically at best and live 500 miles apart) wife was suggested as a friend to me. His friend? Also not on social media. But his wife is. Other than being married to friends we have nothing in common. Nada. How did it know when neither of them are on social media?

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.05.17 at 9:32 pm }

I saw that story or a simlar one (in a different place) and almost send it to you as a creepy FB story. It had an adoption component and it kinda freaked me out.

7 loribeth { 09.06.17 at 2:40 pm }

Nothing quite like that, but I do have a slightly creepy FB connection story. Around the same time that I reconnected with my college roomie on FB, I looked up her ex-husband, who was also a good friend (in fact, I introduced them…!). I spoke with him on the phone once after they split, and then we lost contact (this was the early/mid-1990s, long before social media or even email), and I was curious about where he was now & what he was doing. The two of them haven’t spoken to each other in more than 20 years, and I don’t believe they have any mutual friends on FB. A couple of months after I looked him up, I got a friend request from him!! He said he was searching for his cousin, whose name also happens to be Lori, and my name popped up in the search results, & he decided to send me a request. The only thing I could think of is that I had been searching for him. Makes me kind of leery of looking up anyone else I know on FB…!! (Some I wouldn’t mind hearing from, but others…!!)

I’ve also run into several cases where friends of mine turn out to know each other, or have mutual friends in common. For example, a woman I worked with turned out to know another woman we met through our pg loss support group (which was slightly awkward, because she came to work with us after my loss and had no idea about Katie). Dh found out that the younger sister of a woman he worked with for years went to school & is FB friends with his cousin! etc. etc.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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