Friends, foes and algorithms
Friends, foes and algorithms

Somewhere on Facebook I’m supposed to have nearly 5,000 friends. I used to hear from quite a number of them, especially after posting a column. But then something happened.

What happened? I don’t know. I think that’s what Congress is trying to figure out through these hearings.

Last week, the high and mighty execs from social media were being asked to explain if Conservative voices were being muzzled.

No, no, no, they protested. Plus, if something is broken, we’ll fix it, they promised.

Yet nothing seems to change. The many Facebook “friends” who typically responded, within moments, after a posting, one day their numbers trickled down to a pittance. Was it just me? No, other regular Facebook users have noticed, some with chagrin, some with alarm, that their own postings have somehow gone lost in the newsfeed wilderness.

Their own friends have disappeared, except for the few.

The execs blame it on algorithms. Their thumbs are not on the scale, they aver. It’s technology, it’s a machine that decides who is worthy and who isn’t.

By some coincidence, the machine does not like Conservatives very much. The machine will refuse to circulate you if you are patriotically American and pro-Israel.

By some coincidence, the machine does not like Conservatives very much. The machine will refuse to circulate you if you are patriotically American and pro-Israel.
Or are we just being paranoid?

Say something critical about Islam, or favorable to Trump for closing the PLO office in D.C. and the machine may limit you or cut you off. Liberals get all the breaks…or so it seems.

If you merely like Trump’s supporters, chances are that your posting may get dumped as spam, as happened to New York Post columnist Salena Zito.

This did happen, until Zito complained and got her posting restored.

But it’s nothing personal, say the execs. Those darned algorithms, you know. We are, they insist, at the mercy of something outside our control.

That’s what we’re supposed to believe. But doesn’t someone program this algorithm…or does it think for itself? Is it possible to brainwash an algorithm?  

As you can tell, I don’t know much about technology.

The dictionary explains algorithm like this: “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.”

Oh yeah? Easy for you to say.

On a far more spiritual note, since these are the High Holy Days, we tend to reflect on what’s come and gone, of friends, for instance, the real ones, or even acquaintances, whom we’ve gained or lost over the years, for whatever reason. There’s the matter of life and death, which is out of our hands.

Facebook’s thousands? In real life, most of us have maybe four or five true friends.  

A true friend will rally to your side when you fail. That’s obvious. But there’s a better measure.

When you succeed, three types, I’ve observed, reveal themselves – one shares your joy, another openly despises it, the third ignores it…and that one is the worst.

Then we are also forced to examine the relationships we’ve lost through our own failures…through sloth, snobbery, and neglect, intended or otherwise. Maybe I say it best through a writer’s voice in the noir novel “Slot Attendant,” where in a time of reckoning, he laments, “You can’t go through life without trespassing.”

Then: “You’re always offending somebody…maybe you didn’t say hello or maybe you didn’t say goodbye…or maybe you forgot to tip the mailman at Christmas, or didn’t tip him enough, so that’s why he’s friendlier to the people next door…I have sinned…and even the Asian couple that run the dry cleaners TOOK DOWN the autographed poster of my bestseller when I complained about a crease that was pressed lopsided.”

We seldom know whom we’ve slighted. Best to say sorry to everyone, to cover all the bases…and that includes my own apologies to whomever I may have wronged.

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.

He is the author of the international book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal” and most recently the noir novel “Slot Attendant,” plus the two inside journalism thrillers “The Bathsheba Deadline” and “News Anchor Sweetheart, Hollywood Edition.” Engelhard is the recipient of the Ben Hecht Award for Literary Excellence. Website: