Monday, March 16, 2009

Facebook censoring mentions of Twitter? I doubt it.

On Sunday, Louis Gray shared a post from Ari Herzog that referenced a tweet by Craig Thomler.

Thomler and Herzog suspected that Facebook was censoring mentions of Twitter. In fact, Herzog conducted a test in which he issued a series of status updates, most of which mentioned Twitter.

When he was done, none of the status updates that mentioned Twitter showed up, so Herzog wrote his post and called it "Proof That Facebook is Censoring You."

After I saw Louis Gray's share of the post, I decided to conduct my own experiment, which consisted of five status updates that I entered via my mobile phone. The first and fifth status updates did not mention any service whatsoever, while the second, third, and fourth mentioned FriendFeed, Google Reader, and Twitter respectively.

After the test was done, I saw that Facebook only reprinted selected status updates. Specifically, it only reprinted the first, fourth, and fifth status updates. Which meant that Facebook didn't "censor" mentions of Twitter, but did "censor" mentions of FriendFeed and Google Reader.

Or perhaps something else is going on. Here's what I said in the Louis Gray thread in FriendFeed:

I made five rapid-fire status updates in Facebook, only three of which have made it to FriendFeed as I type this. 1 of those 3 did mention Twitter. My guess is that Facebook just gets overwhelmed by frequent status updates, regardless of content, and loses the middle updates. More testing is needed.

I was performing my experiments on Sunday night, but if you look at the comments to Herzog's post, some people were performing the same experiment on Friday.

Jeff Anderson 03.13.09 at 10:22 PM Twitter: @maxofacto

Ari, FB regularly deletes my updates no matter the comment when made that close in succession - only the last one sticks. Tried it on my FB and it seems to be just fine. As do curse words…

In an update to the original post, Herzog acknowledges this, but goes on to say:

However, as Adriel refers below, there were other people over the course of several hours who witnessed Facebook censoring the word “Twitter” in updates.

Yet Ari's post is still entitled "Proof That Facebook is Censoring You," and still reproduces the rapid-fire experiment that has been shown to have another explanation.

So let's see what Adriel said, again on March 13:

Tonight Facebook revealed its true colors, aping Twitter in its design, then censoring mentions of the competitor in status updates. Damn you, Facebook.

Update: For several hours today, the word Twitter was censored in Facebook’s new stream, or at least delayed.

I guess the question remains - does it pass the sense test?

It may help if I state my major theory on government, and then we can proceed from there. There are people that truly believe that Big Brother really looms among us, and that multiple government agencies (or other entities) are secretly conspiring against us for evil purposes. Frankly, I don't believe it, because I've been around government people. The whole conspiracy idea depends upon the notion that people from agency A will conspire with people from agency B. That isn't going to happen, because they hate each other. For example, anyone who thinks that the Marines and the Army will gang up to enslave us should spend a few hours listening to Marines talk about the Army, or people from the Army talking about the Marines. They HATE each other. In fact, I once knew two people from the same agency who were on a committee together, and those two people couldn't stop sniping at each other.

So to suggest that Facebook's marketing people commanded Facebook's technical people to modify the service to censor mentions of Twitter is, in my view, absurd. Imagine the scenario (I'll place myself in the role of the marketer):

JOHN: Hey, Jane!

JANE: Yes?

JOHN: I have orders from Mark and need you to make a change.

JANE: (rolls eyes) What is it this time?

JOHN: Jane, if any of our users mention Twitter, I'd like for the service lose the message or something. Or delay it.

JANE: And why would you want me to do that?

JOHN: Well, we can't be promoting Twitter here, can we?

JANE: John, let me tell you something. My compensation is not based on how well I implement your silly little marketing ideas. My compensation is based upon uptime, which means that I need to minimize service calls and negative press. So if you think I'm going to jeopardize my paycheck and sabotage the system just to enable your silly little marketing idea, then you got another think coming! Oh, and by the way, that stupid report you wanted ASAP yesterday? It's...lost. Now get out of here!

Sorry, but Facebook censoring mentions of Twitter doesn't pass the sense test. Perhaps something like that could happen at a very small company, but by the time you grow to Facebook size, you're going to have competing factions that negate each other.
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