Facebook Is Sharing Your Warped Reading Tastes With Your Friends

I first noticed it a week or so ago, appearing unbidden at the top of my feed: a list of articles that people in my Facebook network had apparently been reading. "Jane Smith and 4 other friends recently read articles," the text said, and below that, a collection of surprisingly unsavory-sounding web links. Shortly after that, I saw that a friend had posted the following status:

Dear friends, do you know that when you use those Facebook plugins, I can see you're reading stories about rape, porn stars, and child murder?

It's true that the articles themselves seemed unusually … provocative, to say the least. If you've ever approved a Facebook app intended to facilitate "frictionless sharing," you might want to think twice about your surfing habits—and whether your intent is to encourage your friends to read articles about dead babies.

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On the surface, this new concept of seamless sharing is a decent enough idea: once you approve an app (like from The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, or Yahoo), you don't have to bother with that time-consuming step of actually posting an article to share it with others. You just read it as you normally would, and Facebook takes care of the behind-the-scenes effort of posting the headline on your Facebook activity stream.

Mind you, that's for every single article you read through that service from there on out. So whether or not you really wanted to share "Man Decapitates Toddler With Butter Knife, Claims Devil Made Him Do It," or "Seventeen Plastic Toy Figurines Found In One Man's Anus"—too bad, there it is on your feed. As a clickable link for your friends, who then get the opportunity to approve the app for themselves, and on it goes.

The problem with the feature is that you're not really sharing content in any sort of deliberate way when an app automatically publishes what you just read. Maybe you just clicked it and didn't read the whole thing, maybe you thought it was a terrible article. When you take the time to post a link to a social media site along with some commentary, that's a purposeful action that has meaning behind it. That's you saying, hey, check this out. Installing something that not only tracks your every move, but broadcasts it to others is something else altogether. It devalues the experience of sharing.

Not only do I not want to click your link because I don't want to be asked to authorize a service I'm not interested in, I don't want to click it because I have no faith you actually recommend it.

As Molly Wood of CNET writes,

Sharing and recommendation shouldn't be passive. It should be conscious, thoughtful, and amusing--we are tickled by a story, picture, or video and we choose to share it, and if a startling number of Internet users also find that thing amusing, we, together, consciously create a tidal wave of meme that elevates that piece of media to viral status. We choose these gems from the noise. (Frictionless sharing) will fill our feeds with noise, burying the gems.

Also, frankly, you're creeping me out with your beheaded-children reading habits. Don't share that shit with me, friend.

What do you think about Facebook's article sharing apps? Do you use them?

Image via Facebook

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