New parents on Facebook are the absolute worst, oppressing you with their baby status updates and their baby pictures and their baby status updates that also have pictures. You cannot escape the tyranny of their babies. Their babies have taken over your newsfeed.
Except, says Wired, that they haven’t. If anything, it’s the opposite — babies are actually underrepresented on Facebook. If you are a person with a Facebook account, this is legitimately shocking news and I will give you a moment to recover.
Okay. According to a recent study by computer scientist Meredith Ringel Morris, who analyzed the online behavior of more than 200 new moms, new parents actually post half as much stuff on Facebook as they used to post in their pre-baby days. And on the rare occasions when they do post, they’re usually not posting about their offspring — Morris found that fewer than 30 percent of updates mention the baby by name early on, and by the time the kid turns one, that drops to below 10 percent. New moms aren’t oversharers at all, Wired says. If anything, “they’re probably undersharers.”
So why, then, does it feel like we are bombarded with hot hot baby pics every time we refresh the page? Morris thinks the Facebook algorithm can explain some of it. Baby posts, she found, get more “likes” than other kinds of posts, because the social contract says you have to like your friends’ baby pictures or else you are a monster. The more “likes” a post gets, the more prominently Facebook features it.
Meanwhile, Wired’s Clive Thompson has another theory. According to him, the issue is “a perceptual quirk called frequency illusion” — basically, that once you notice something notable, you keep noticing it over and over until you believe it’s everywhere. It’s not, but you think it is, and trend pieces — written by people who have also noticed the notable thing (babies) — tell you it’s everywhere, confirming that you are right and new mothers are terrible.
For Thompson, Morris’s study is evidence that “the way we observe the world around us is deeply unstatistical,” and we should seize this occasion to examine what’s “actually going on” instead of what we generally believe to be true based on the Facebook feed of that one girl from high school. Fair enough.
In your defense, though, that one girl from high school is real annoying.