Is Facebook blocking your friends?
Have you received a message from a Facebook friend in the last week saying the tech giant is blocking you from seeing posts from more than 26 friends?
If so, you're not alone. My editor received two messages along those lines, which came as a surprise because none of us thought he had 26 friends.
So is it hoax or is something underhand going on? I decided to investigate and the truth can be traced back to my childhood.
Back when I was at school (many years ago) I'd get emails from friends saying 'If you don't forward this on to 4,000 people then the ghost of Bloody Mary is going to cross over from the spirit world, find you, drag you back down to hell with her and torment you for eternity'.
It would usually be followed by an inappropriately perky emoticon made out of dots and dashes (this was pre-emoji) and a short story about Bobby in Texas who did not heed the email chain and disappeared in 1994.
As the world moved onto more sophisticated platforms, so did the email chain. Over the years I’ve seen countless variations of ‘Facebook is going to delete your account if you don’t share this post'.
If I’m honest, there’s always a part of my brain that panics and is tempted to comply, and if I'm really honest, probably a few times when I actually have.
The latest version really seems to be doing the rounds but should people stop panic posting or are they right to - in the words of the great Fleetwood Mac - never break the chain?
In case by some miracle you haven’t seen it yet, the offending post states that Facebook will only show you updates from a limited number of 25 or 26 friends in your newsfeed unless you comment on the post and then share it.
It will sound very sincere and personable and will probably look a little something like this:
I was wondering why my news feed felt so different lately… Just found out, Facebook has another new algorithm. It seems like I only see the same small handful of my friends on my newsfeed anymore (whom I love)… so I’m doing a simple check, with your help! ??????
Can everybody do me a quick favour, pretty please?? If you’re seeing this, leave me a comment – just a quick “Hey” or your favourite emoji would be great.
The more interaction you have with people, the more friends will show up on your feed. Otherwise Facebook CHOOSES who you see.
Feel free to copy and paste to your own wall so you can have more interaction as well! Excited to see more about YOUR life again ?? xoxo.
Putting aside the fact that if anyone posted an update with that many grammatical mistakes on my feed I’d probably be glad to see the back of them, the good news is its' a hoax.
"Friends don't let friends copy and paste memes, and this one simply is not true," Facebook said in a statement.
"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."
So Facebook’s algorithm could be filtering out posts that it doesn’t think are relevant to you, but you can go into your newsfeed settings and ask to see more or less of certain people.
We asked social media expert Martin Bryant for his thoughts and he confirmed: "It's just designed to get people sharing content – a modern day chain letter."
Social Republic CEO Rob Illidge said this too, and told me that to spot fake posts it’s important to read through the content and look for any red flags.
"Does it make sense? Would it be useful to other users? Common sense should prevail first of all," he said.
"You can then check with the social media platform itself. Facebook for example has its own newsroom which announces changes to algorithms."
Illidge also draws comparisons between this and emails from ‘mysterious princes asking for a small loan to release millions of dollars’.
Sharing a fake Facebook post about changes to a newsfeed algorithm might not seem as big of a deal as losing thousands of pounds to a scammer but feeding the fake news machine can have ‘seismic’ consequences, he says.
He draws on the US election and Brexit to illustrate the point. However, all hope is not lost, and education should be the first port of call.
"I believe that social media networks, agencies, teachers and parents all have a duty to educate others on smart sharing," says Illidge.
It’s not just the younger generation either – older generations who haven’t grown up with tech are also particularly at risk, with elderly users often getting duped by phishing scams and the like.
You can choose to believe me when I say this is a scam or not, because if the only thing you take away from this is to approach everything you see online with a heavy dose of scepticism then I’m happy.
And if I am wrong and I’ve misled you then you don’t have to worry – the ghost of Bloody Mary will probably be coming for me soon.