On algorithmic friendship, a belated April Fools’ joke

While I was updating my DevonThink today I visited their blog Devonian Times and noticed I missed one of the best April Fools’ jokes related to my research:

CareTaker for Facebook is here!

CareTaker for Facebook iconSome people say that our apps are not “social” enough now with Facebook and Twitter being still the main trends in the industry. We listened and proudly present a brand new freeware app: CareTaker for Facebook. Never get your friends kicked out of your news feed again. Don’t get calls from annoyed friends telling you that you don’t like their posts. And all this without wasting even more time on Facebook.

Once signed in to your Facebook account CareTaker takes care of your friends and fully automatically likes their posts or comments that match the rules you set up. Create rules based on your DEVONthink databases (likes all posts that fit your interests according to your document collection) or use RegEx for even more control. Our unique Artificial Intelligence technology not only does the matching but also creates meaningful, human-looking replies for you. Finally the Toady Mode likes every of your boss’ posts and comments on them with an AI-crafted variant of “That’s great!”.

CareTaker for Facebook will be available starting today for free for Mac, iPhone, and iPad in the App Store. And make sure to like it (and us) on Facebook! (DevonThink)

Commenters were quick to label it a joke as someone commented: “Thanks for developing a great app! I really like the companion module, UnderTaker, that continues to post to Facebook long after we’re dead and gone.” The fake app refers to what Jason Kottke (2010), based on the article The Social Index by Susan Orlean, and Taina Bucher (2012) have labelled “algorithmic friendship.” Bucher uses the concept of algorithmic friendship as “a way of understanding the ways in which algorithms and software have become active participants in our networked lives and information ecosystems, forming the ways in which users are made to relate to self and others.” (2012:2)1

Optimizing the self for algorithms

The (fake) app offers a way to increase your visibility by optimizing your presence on Facebook by exploiting the EdgeRank algorithm. We no longer optimize our blogs for Google but we optimize ourselves for Facebook. Bucher notes how the “power of the algorithm becomes apparent in its capacity to make certain people more visible than others. The underlying software always already intervenes in the practices of friendship by selecting which friends a user should pay attention to” (2012:6) and this (fake) app functions as a managerial piece of software where one can set ‘rules’ for which types of content and activities on Facebook to like. By structuring and automating responses with RegEx one predefines affective reactions to content and activities of friends; if this, then that. If a piece of content or activity adheres to the predefined rules then an automatic response will follow, no longer leaving the user in doubt whether or to like it or not. But, you can also simple like everything!

Such a script, to automatically like everything from your friends, actually already exists: “[loveMachine] is a program (or as I prefer to call it, a bot) that will log into a Facebook account, repetitively click the “like” buttons on every possible content shown in the home stream, then post its amazing score as a status and log out.” It is also (jokingly) put forward as an automatic friendship managerial tool as one of the reasons listed under why you would want to use this tool is because “You already like everything your friends post on Facebook. This will saves you time.” Another reason is also related to the algorithmic invisibility effecting friendships on Facebook where if “You want attention from your friends. By liking everything they do, they’ll notice you.” Search Engine Reputation Management (SERM) as an identity management subgenre of search engine optimization is complemented by Facebook EdgeRank Optimization where users have to constantly show their affection and active engagement by liking, sharing and commenting everything their friends do to maintain their visibility. The idea of using scripts to automate the optimization of the self for algorithms is no longer an April Fools’ joke but (becoming) reality.

  1.  Bucher, Taina. “The Friendship Assemblage: Investigating Programmed Sociality on Facebook.” Television & New Media (August 24, 2012). doi:10.1177/1527476412452800.[]

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