One of the most-requested features for Facebook is the ability to see News Feed posts in chronological order, rather than presented through the mysterious lens of the social giant’s algorithm. Now, Facebook is rolling out that feature, though not exactly the way most users would prefer.
It’s just one set of tools introduced Wednesday in a pair of blog posts. One, a traditional piece on Facebook itself, and another, a 5,000-word essay posted on Medium. The longer piece is more than just a product announcement, but rather a defense of Facebook’s algorithm against charges that it has resulted in the polarization of society. It’s written by Nick Clegg, the company’s Vice President of Global Affairs and a former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Its title: “You and the Algorithm: It Takes Two to Tango.” (A truncated version can be found on Facebook.) Its point: Users drive the algorithm, not the other way around.
The new features are cast as a way to better control Facebook’s algorithm, and let you see Facebook’s content your way. To a certain extent, some are not necessarily new, but rather Facebook is making it easy for you to take advantage of them. The changes are available in Facebook’s mobile apps; it’s not clear if the web version will get them.
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• A new Feed Filter Bar has three tabs: Home, which is the traditional, algorithm-based feed; Favorites, filled with posts by up to 30 friends and pages you designate; and Recent, posts from friends, groups and liked pages in chronological order.
To be clear, Facebook has always let you switch to a chronological feed, though it’s hidden in a menu (click the 3-bar menu in the lower right corner of the app and choose Most Recent) and reverts back to an algorithm-based display when you next re-open the app.
The Favorites display builds off Facebook’s previous addition of designating favorite sources to be prioritized in your feed. You can already see a feed based just on Favorites: 3-bar menu > See More > Favorites.
The Feed Filter Bar is already available in the Android version of the app, and Facebook says iOS users may have to wait a few weeks for it to show up. However, it’s already visible in the iOS app on my iPhone, and it doesn’t appear at the top of the app until I begin scrolling.
• Limiting who can comment on your posts mimics a Twitter feature. You can restrict comments to anyone who can see the post, friends or specific people or pages you tag. While there is no simple way to prevent commenting altogether, it would be possible to tag a page you own as the only source for comments, effectively shutting them off.
• Why you’re seeing a post in the algorithm view has sometimes been a puzzle, but Facebook is expanding its “Why am I seeing this?” feature to include any post. You can now click on the three-button menu atop any post and choose “Why am I seeing this post?” If you’ve friended someone or liked a page, it’s obvious. But this helps shed light on why posts from seemingly random sources show up in your feed.
In his Medium post, Clegg goes into more detail about how Facebook’s algorithm works, positioning the new features as a way to provide more transparency, as well as further “training” the algorithm to rank content to show what you like. He says that “content ranking is a dynamic partnership between people and algorithms. On Facebook, it takes two to tango.”
He also goes into a robust defense against critics who have charged that Facebook profits from displaying sensational, extreme and divisive content that keeps users glued to the platform, insisting that:
“The reality is, it’s not in Facebook’s interest — financially or reputationally — to continually turn up the temperature and push users towards ever more extreme content.
“The company’s long-term growth will be best served if people continue to use its products for years to come. If it prioritized keeping you online an extra 10 or 20 minutes, but in doing so made you less likely to return in the future, it would be self-defeating.”
Clegg’s defense comes a week after Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before a U.S. House of Representatives committee to defend his creation against charges that it promotes misinformation.