Earlier this week I wrote about how I thought Facebook could be sharing your updates in secret groups via widgets on third-party sites. After a little more digging, I’m revising my original hypothesis. I don’t think Facebook is sharing your updates to secret groups; I think this issue has to do with how ABC is obtaining your Facebook actions, then possibly modifying those actions before they reach the Facebook widget on the ABC site.
Let’s do a quick recap so we’re all on the same page: My friend received a screenshot from another friend that showed her in the Facebook widget on an ABC news page. I went to the URL in the screenshot and found the same thing:
We were originally concerned because my friend had shared that link in a secret Facebook group. We thought the action in the widget was triggered because it says “shared” right there in the widget! The concern is that content shared in a secret group shouldn’t be seen anywhere but in that group per Facebook’s description:
Why I Think ABC Is Manipulating the Facebook API
After more discussion with my friend, we discovered she had Liked and commented on the video in question on a friend’s Wall. However, she did not share the video from that Wall update. Instead, she shared the video later, directly from YouTube. You see, my friend isn’t like most of us who click and share in a blur. She rarely shares things from others, preferring to go to the source to share instead. She’ll tell you: “I meticulously manage my online identity, even in ‘secret groups’ – I’m under no illusions about Facebook and my privacy, so it is important for me to keep my identity capital well invested.” If she says she only shared it in a secret group, then she did. And if she says she Liked and commented on the video on a Wall, she did.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Deb Ng also appeared in the widget when I visited the page. That makes sense because those widgets are supposed to populate with people I’m connected with on Facebook. However, I thought it was out of character for her to share an article like Royals to Sue Magazine Over Topless Photos of Kate Middleton, so I contacted Deb and I asked her if she shared the article. She was as surprised as I was and said she absolutely did not share the article. Deb is no stranger to social media. She’s the Community Manager for New Media Expo. She told me she’s very careful about not installing readers and she avoids reader apps that show others what she’s reading. But for the sake of argument, let’s say she installed the ABC reader without remembering. She still didn’t share the article, but ABC says she did.
So here’s what’s going on at a glance:
- My friend Liked and commented on a video on someone’s Wall.
- She did not share the video from that Wall.
- Later, she came back to Facebook and shared a link to the video (directly from the YouTube source, not the original Wall post) in a secret group on Facebook.
- She is contacted by a friend three weeks later that she’s showing up on the ABC Facebook widget as having shared the video via ABC.
- The link in the ABC Facebook widget takes you to a gangnam video on the ABC site, not YouTube.
- My friend Deb also shows up in the widget & it says she shared an article.
- She actually did read the article, but she did not share it, she did not install an app, and she avoids reader apps that show others what she reads.
So why is ABC showing actions that didn’t occur and that appear to be self-serving in that they point to deep links on the ABC site?
Occam’s Razor: Why This May All Be a Frustrating Coincidence
I discussed this issue with my friend David Griner. He’s the VP/Director of Digital Content at Luckie & Co. and he writes for AdWeek. He’s worked closely with Facebook and knows more than just about anyone about digital content. He and I rarely disagree about things like Facebook, but this time we do (respectfully, I might add). David believes that it’s just a “confusing coincidence” and that there is a “simple explanation for what’s showing up in the widget.”
He brought up some important and fair points in our discussion on my Facebook Timeline. (The following are direct quotes from our discussion and used with David’s permission.)
- ABC News is using a pretty standard Facebook social plugin that shares recent interactions your friends have had with any of the brand’s pages/articles. If you Like a video or blog post on ABC News, it says you’ve “shared” it. But for articles, ABC (like a lot of news outlets) allows you to “recommend” instead of Liking.
- There are honestly a lot of practical ways this could have happened, few of which require the kind of API triple backflips ABC would need to re-associate an unrelated video (which, while we can agree to disagree, I think is impossible).
- I just also think that there’s an Occam’s Razor answer that we’ll likely never know.
- I’ve spent a lot of time with Facebook’s social action API, and I’ve never seen the capability of doing something like what you’re describing. What I have seen are weird bugs, which are always a possibility when things look bizarre on or around FB. Again, if this were the exact same video being reported in two different places, I’d be pretty concerned.
Everything he says makes perfect sense. And I know he has extensive experience with Facebook’s social action API. And OMG, I *love* that he brings Occams’ Razor into the conversation because YES, you would think the simplest answer would be the best answer. I just can’t get past the fact that neither of these people shared, liked, or recommended content from ABC. In my friend’s case, she didn’t even visit their website.
IS ABC Manipulating the Facebook API? I Think So.
Here’s what I’m hypothesizing: I think Facebook is not in the wrong here (this is different from my previous post on the subject, so I wanted to be clear about that). I think ABC is manipulating the API to serve up its own content. Having managed some pretty savvy programmers in a former corporate life, I know that if you have the money to hire good people, they can do amazing things with code. ABC has that money. I’m thinking that ABC has access to your Facebook connections’ actions via the social API (this is what it’s built for, so no big deal there). The issue is that it appears that ABC is taking that information, then changing it to appear as something it’s not, i.e., your friend shared content they didn’t actually share or interact with, or changing the URL of a video from YouTube to one on their site. I cannot figure out why the video with a YouTube URL that my friend liked on a Wall would show up as shared on the ABC site and also points to a video on an ABC page instead of YouTube. It’s convoluted, I know. Anyone have a contact at ABC or Facebook who can answer my questions? You can e-mail me at melanie AT bloggingbasics101 DOT com so you don’t share publicly.