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Facebook thinks I’m in a poly relationship with my partner and her mother

Taking “your mom” way too far.

Facebook app on smartphone
Image: Unsplash

I don’t use Facebook all that much. Over the years I’ve recommended quitting it, compared it to drug addiction, pointed out its inaccuracy as a news source, suggested how we can move forward knowing how it’s using our data and delved into our psychological connection to it. Yet, it’s still on my phone. But it’s been getting invasively odd lately.

It’s been sending me a visual notification on my phone every time my partner comments on her mother’s posts and vice versa. There might be easily explained reasons for this based on notification settings, but considering how stringent I am against notifications, this is a strange escalation.

Facebook notifications have always been a bit out of control, designed to keep you in the app as often and as long as possible. I have all visual notifications turned off on my smartphone, including for groups. The only notifications I allow on my phone are for direct messaging. I only see notifications when I open the app (everything is marked push only, I checked). This rule holds true for all apps and helps with my sanity. Yet, this one singularity of notifications persists.

I’ve found at least one answered question to this extent in the Facebook community help pages, but it doesn’t really address the why, only how to cease the action. Facebook notifications have always presented more questions than answers. There are plenty of resources for how to turn notifications off, but none that seem to explain why they are happening in the first place.

“You may be getting notifications about friends who are commenting on each other’s posts because you’ve engaged with those friends and/or those posts, and/or those kinds of posts recently and/or frequently on the Facebook website or app,” a Facebook representative tells me via email. “Additionally, if you’ve used the ‘Nearby Friends’ feature on the Facebook app, we will notify you if any of your Facebook friends (who are also using the Nearby Friends feature) are in your proximity.”

I never use the Nearby Friends feature and sure, I probably comment on my partner’s posts more than other posts, but I barely use Facebook in that sense. Mostly I just post my articles and memes. I comment on her posts about as often as I comment on my friend David’s smoked meat posts (I don’t comment much at all really). But I don’t get dings on my phone when David comments on someone else’s posts. But the proximity nature of Facebook might have something to do with it.

My partner and I are often in the same place. I feel if we were in the same place all the time, this wouldn’t be happening. But I’m at her house a few times a week and she’s at mine (we formed a two-family Covid-19 quarantine bubble as time has dragged on during this pandemic). As for her mother, she’s often at my partner’s house as well. Yet, so is her dad and I never get notifications that’s he’s commented on my partner’s posts. Just her mom. So this leads me to the conclusion that Facebook, knowing my romantic history (divorced, etc.,) and gender preferences has algorithmically decided that I’m in a relationship with my partner and/or her mom simultaneously.

For the record, I’m not.

Perhaps it has something to do with network structure and clustering

Here’s a research paper (PDF) that surmises that Facebook can determine romantic relationships based on dispersion and a bunch of theoretical stuff I don’t quite understand. Even though this was written in 2013, the general hypothesis exists (and persists) that Facebook can determine who you are dating based on numerous factors you create through general use of the platform, then self-adjust its notification behavior based on an algorithmic hunch.

So Facebook clearly knows I’m in a relationship with my partner (without us flipping that switch) and thinks I either really, really care about her comments on her mother’s posts or isn’t sure if I’m dating her or her mother and is just covering its bases.

It’s just another creepy Facebook feature on an already creepy pile of features. In the end, considering how Facebook allows the spread of misinformation from climate change to disinformation about women in leadership, this is a small thing. It’s a notification centered around someone Facebook knows I care a great deal about. So I can live with that until I finally delete the app someday. Someday.

I’ll update this post if I ever figure out why these notifications are popping up.

What do you think? Do you feel Facebook knows (or tries to know) too much? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Defunct writer. Exhausted. Ephemeral existence for ephemeral times. Don't email me.

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