15 min Social Media How the “People You May Know” section on Facebook works

15 min Social Media How the "People You May Know" section on Facebook works

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Facebook’s infamous “Friendship Suggestions”, also known as “People You Might Know”, are almost a trademark of the social network. The tool manages to unite users who even have mutual friends, but who frequent the same space or, who knows, were longtime colleagues who barely remembered each other.

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Given the efficiency of the resource’s operation, at one time or another it can be scary: how will Facebook find someone you’ve met in real life? Or how does the social network understand which people are most interesting to you within groups? The answer, of course, lies in the way the tool works — which, by the way, is quite robust.

Facebook’s “People You Know” cross-reference profile information to determine potential friendships (Image: Kaboompics/Pexels)

How does Facebook Friend Tips work?

According to Facebook, friendship recommendations don’t appear randomly, but happen through a cross-check of data contained in the user’s profile. Among the information observed by the platform are:

  • Friends in common: the amount of equal friendships between one user and another makes the profiles be suggested as friends;
  • Facebook group memberships: could be a community, bazaar, workgroup, or anything else. The chance of a user being friends with another user who also participates in this group is great;
  • Networks: common information such as schools, courses, jobs, cities also signal a friendship in real life;
  • Uploaded contacts: Having a Facebook user’s phone number saved in your address book signals that the user is probably an acquaintance.
  • Common tags in photos: If you appear in the same photo as someone else, you’ve probably gone to the same place.

Although the official operation of the tool is that, there are rumors that it goes beyond: user reports and numerous reports indicate that interactions on Instagram, the social network “sister” to Facebook, can also generate friendship suggestions.

Facebook friend suggestions are officially not influenced by interactions or Instagram followers or vice versa, but user reports make you believe they are (Image: Brett Jordan/Pexels)

The same would happen with Messenger, the integrated messenger for Instagram and Facebook. Groups and in-app conversations also signal a potential friendship, so the profiles the user has chatted with may also pop up as “Person you might know”.

Why does Facebook suggest friendships with strangers?

There are suspicions that Facebook may go even further when it comes to determining who the user knows, even referring to the check-ins made at commercial establishments to create connections. According to a 2017 Gizmodo report, the platform explores very detailed data between the profiles to understand when there are relationships between them or not, including the places where it went.

“People You May Know” can look at more data to determine relationships (Image: Timothy Hales Bennett/Unsplash)

The social network has never confirmed whether this information is part of the data pie or not, but the clue is strong: do you ever remember receiving a friendship suggestion from someone you met a few days before in real life, but there is no colleague in common between you? Or, in the craziest of cases, has a distant friend appeared on the list of recommended friends, but no public data seems to reveal that relationship?

Profiles popping up weirdly in “People You Know” could be as much a result of Facebook’s super-smart algorithm as a simple coincidence. The platform itself states that, in some cases, mutual friends may not appear because the friendship list of the profile in question is private.

Who visits profiles appears as a friend suggestion?

According to Facebook, no. However, nothing prevents you and another person from having information in common that, at some point, can be detected by the algorithm and end up as a suggestion of mutual friendship. Something similar doesn’t happen with searches either: a frequent search result might even show up as a suggestion, but that person won’t know you’re looking for it often.

Can you stop receiving friend suggestions on Facebook?

The Facebook feature cannot be turned off completely, but it can be hidden from the News Feed. To do this, just find it on the page, select the menu in the upper right corner, the three-dot button, and click on “Hide People You May Know”. Facebook informs you, however, that the function will not be disabled and may still appear in other areas of the app.

Clicking the “X” deletes a single profile from the list of “People You May Know”, but you can hide all suggestions by clicking on the menu in the upper right corner (Capture: Igor Almenara/FreeGameGuide)

If the annoyance comes from a single profile, Facebook allows you to avoid it entirely: delete it from the list using the “X” button, remove the suggestions that no longer interest you or, in the most extreme of cases, block the person.

How do Instagram recommendations work?

On the social network at the side, the rules are a little different. Common interactions may even have some weight in the list of recommended profiles, but interests also have a weight in this regard. In addition, the tool behaves differently in each place: Explore highlights profiles and pages that the user might find interesting, including content that the user apparently likes to follow — travel, sport, food, memes, satisfying videos, and many other things .

Instagram profile recommendations follow another rule — but there, things are much more complex (Image: Souvik Banerjee/Unsplash)

On the official page, Instagram says it evaluates:

  • Post information: A viral post is more likely to appear in Explore;
  • Personal history of interactions with the author of the post: if you’ve already interacted with the profile in question, but you haven’t followed it yet, maybe there’s an interest in that content, so it might show up in Explore;
  • User Activity: If the user has liked, commented on or saved a post, the profile that made it can reappear in Explore;

As for those suggestions that appear when following a new profile, another rule applies: in this case, the suggestions are composed of “similar profiles”, including common profiles and possible colleagues.