Facebook Tests Giving Users More Control Over News Feed

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Facebook tests giving users more control over News Feed amidst political pressure, after whistleblower says algorithmic ranking ‘amplifies divisive content’

Facebook has said it is testing new controls allowing users to modify the way their News Feed works.

The company will allow people to increase or decrease how much content they see from friends, family, groups and pages they’re connected to, Facebook said.

Existing controls will also be made easier to access, including Favorites, Snooze, Unfollow and Reconnect, which are currently mostly in a settings sub-menu.

“This is part of our ongoing work to give people more control over News Feed, so they see more of what they want and less of what they don’t,” Facebook said in its announcement.

‘Engagement’

The move comes amidst intense scrutiny of what the company displays to users, most recently due the leak of internal corporate documents by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The News Feed is a key part of what draws users to log into the platform and to post content – what Facebook calls “engagement”, and which in turn drives its advertising revenues.

The firm provides few details about how its algorithms choose what will go into the News Feed, and is reluctant to make changes that might reduce engagement.

But Haugen has repeatedly criticised Facebook’s use of “engagement-based ranking”, telling Parliament last month that it “prioritises and amplifies divisive, polarising, extreme content”.

Chronological feed

Facebook disagrees, saying such criticism paints a false picture of the company.

But Haugen’s view has led a group of US lawmakers to table a bill called the “Filter Bubble Transparency Act”, designed to force tech companies to give access to their services without algorithmic interference.

Facebook’s original version did this, simply displaying a chronological feed of news from the user’s friends and family.

The Washington Post reported that Facebook has experimented with allowing users to view a chronological feed, but one of the tests resulted in users loggin into Facebook less often, spending less time reading content and posting less content.

Advertiser controls

Facebook also said it is testing an expansion of its Topic Exclusion controls for advertisers with a limited number of customers.

The controls allow advertisers to select three topics – News and Politics, Social Issues, and Crime & Tragedy – which will result in their ad not being delivered to people who have recently engaged with those topics in their News Feed.

The company said it is also working with third parties on a way of verifying whether ads are appearing alongside content suitable to an advertiser’s brand.

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