PhotoLike all social media companies, Facebook uses proprietary algorithms to determine everything from what advertisements you see on your “feed” to which of your friends' posts get priority over others. Because they're proprietary, nobody (save for a few high-ranking Facebook executives) can say exactly what they are, and such confusion might be the foundation for some odd lawsuits Facebook's been facing recently.

Colorado resident Anthony DiTorro is suing Facebook for misrepresentation, claiming that he (DiTorro) has never visited the USA Today website, let alone “liked” it, yet a perusal of DiTorro's online Facebook activity allegedly shows that DiTorro “liked” USA Today, and Facebook even went so far as to mention this in sponsored posts pushing USA Today in the personal feeds of his friends.

Know who your friends are

A brief pause to explain Facebook terminology: if you have a Facebook account, you can choose exactly which people can see it or post on it; these people are your Facebook “friends.” The place where you actually do things – your virtual online hangout, if you will – is your Facebook “Wall.” You can post comments, pictures and links on your own Wall, or your friends' Walls. Your “Feed” is where you see various posts and comments your Friends made on their Walls or others'. Your Feed will also include “sponsored posts,” which are basically advertisements. And, finally: if you want, you can click a little button indicating that you “like” any given post or comment.

So it's hard to discuss a Facebook lawsuit without sounding rather middle-schoolish, debating such questions as, “Do you or do you not 'like' this?” or “Are you or are you not his 'friend'?” But DiTorro's lawsuit ultimately is based on the allegation that DiTorro never made any Facebook posts or clicked any “Like” buttons in favor of USA Today, yet Facebook falsely let DiTorro's Friends think he did.

It's tempting to chuckle over DiTorro's umbrage here (“USA Today? How dare you accuse me of reading a Gannett publication! Them's fightin' words”), but in all seriousness: imagine how you'd feel if your friends and family thought you supported something you actually found downright abhorrent: a politician whose policies you firmly oppose, say.

DiTorro's is hardly the only lawsuit making such allegations against Facebook. Last month, just before the New Year turned, two Facebook users in California alleged that Facebook has been scanning the contents of private messages in order to boost various “like” counts.

Awful politician

Going back to the earlier example of the politician you despise: imagine you and a Facebook friend are having a discussion over the Facebook private message system, specifically discussing how much you dislike that politico. You send a link to his page, along with the comment “Look at this incredibly stupid new policy he's promoting now!” and your friend responds, “Terrible! He really is an awful politician, isn't he?”

According to the lawsuit, your little discussion there ends up increasing said politician's “like” count, thus making him appear more popular than he actually is.

But that lawsuit makes far more serious allegations: that such scans of private messages violate anti-wiretapping laws. The lawsuit alleges “Facebook misleads users into believing that they have a secure, private mechanism for communication -- Facebook’s private messaging function -- when, in fact, Facebook intercepts and scans the content and treats portions of that content no differently than a public 'Like' or post, broadcast openly across the Internet.”

If you're worried that Facebook is using your own name to push products or causes you don't actually like, you might try posting a request on your own Facebook Wall, asking your friends to give you a heads-up if they see any announcements that you “liked” something. (But make sure you word your request very carefully, lest you find yourself inundated with messages saying “Hey, Facebook says you 'like' the fact that your friend just had a healthy baby!” Trust us on this.)

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