Monday, April 15, 2024

Facebook users to get ‘more control’ of news feeds


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Washington  – Facebook says it is introducing new features to give people more control over what appears in their news feeds.

The social network has been under intense scrutiny in recent years for how its algorithms promote content.

Now, it says it is testing controls to “adjust people’s ranking preferences” and customise the feed.

That includes, for example, increasing the number of posts from friends and family, and decreasing those from groups and pages.

It will also make controls that already exist “easier to access”, it said – such as the favourites and snooze features, which largely live inside a settings sub-menu.

“We’ll begin testing in countries around the world to a small percentage of people, gradually expanding in the coming weeks,” Facebook said in its announcement post.

“This is part of our ongoing work to give people more control over [the] news feed, so they see more of what they want and less of what they don’t.”

Ranking row

It comes as Facebook and its newly-named parent company Meta are under political pressure to let users avoid its ranking systems.

So-called “engagement-based ranking” has been a repeated target of criticism in the testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who said it prioritised divisive and extreme content.

Facebook disagrees with that, but the view has caught on among some.

A group of US lawmakers has tabled a bill named the “Filter Bubble Transparency Act”, which is designed to make sure that social networks give their users an option to use the sites without any kind of algorithmic interference.

That would bring Facebook much closer to its original version. In the early days, when Facebook was only really used by university students, it simply displayed every post from friends, with the most recent ones first.

Facebook, for its part, believes that users do not actually want that. A recent report by the Washington Post discovered that Facebook has run at least two experiments in recent years, exploring what happens when the algorithmic feed is disabled.

One of those tests, the Post reported, resulted in users logging into Facebook less often, spending less time reading content, and posting less themselves.

“The documents suggest that Facebook’s defence of algorithmic rankings stems not only from its business interests, but from a paternalistic conviction, backed by data, that its sophisticated personalisation software knows what users want better than the users themselves,” the Post wrote.

Facebook has added one way to access a chronological feed since March this year, although it is not an option available by default.

On its mobile apps, while scrolling through the news feed, an option for “most recent” will sometimes appear. It only works for that browsing session. The next time the app is opened, it will revert to the algorithmic feed. (BBC)


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