Facebook announces new comment and sorting tools for users to control their News Feed

Users can order the News Feed algorithmically or chronologically, with options to restrict who can comment on posts

Adam Smith
Wednesday 31 March 2021 11:18 BST

Facebook has announced that it is giving users more options over the ordering of their news feed.

Users are now able to choose between having the News Feed, the home page of Facebook, ordered either chronologically or algorithmically.

There is also the option to rank the home page by what Facebook calls your “Favourites”, whereby 30 chosen friends and pages will be shown higher in the feed than content from other sources.

For all users, this ‘Favourites’ option will be accessible in Facebook’s settings. Android users will be able to access this at the top of the Facebook app, when they scroll up on the News Feed, while the company says that the same functionality will be rolling out to Apple users in the coming weeks.

As well as these controls over the News Feed, users are also getting more control over who can comment on posts. They will be able to change the settings between ‘public’, meaning anyone can reply, ‘friends’, and ‘friends of friends’. These are similar to the existing visibility settings on posts that Facebook had previously introduced.

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Finally, Facebook is attempting to give more context about why content might appear through its algorithm. A “Why am I seeing this?” button will be accessible on posts from friends, Pages, and Groups in the News Feed, with details about why content is appearing in the News Feed.

“A post may be suggested for you if other people who interacted with the post also previously interacted with the same group, Page, or post as you”, Facebook says, “if you’ve recently engaged with a certain topic”, or based on the user’s location.

The new changes to Facebook’s feed bear a striking similarity to the settings available on Twitter. Twitter introduced the ability for users to choose who could reply to their tweets in May last year, whether that was everyone on the platform, only people the user followed, or nobody at all.

Twitter also has a button at the top of its iOS and Android app that lets users choose between a chronologically sorted home page or one ranked by the company’s algorithm. Jack Dorsey, the company’s CEO, has also suggested that there could be an app store for algorithms, giving users more choice over how their feed is organised.

Facebook was also recently criticised for the way that its algorithm works when Mark Zuckerberg once again appeared for questioning by the US Congress. Mr Zuckerberg was criticised after it was claimed that only 12 accounts were responsible for 65 per cent of the coronavirus misinformation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, highlighting how the company’s algorithm can be used to reach across the social media site and spread fraudulent information. Mr Zuckerberg said that Facebook would look into the accounts, referencing the company’s policy with regards to coronavirus misinformation.

Instagram, which was previously criticised for not promoting new posts in the feed, will not be receiving these new algorithmic updates. It does, however, already have options to control who can comment on users’ content.

Facebook’s algorithmic changes are accompanied by a lengthy blog post from former deputy prime minister and Facebook’s current Vice President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg. The post, called “You and the Algorithm”, pushes back against claims of “dystopian depictions” where “people are portrayed as powerless victims” made the “playthings of manipulative algorithmic systems”.

Mr Clegg argues that Facebook’s systems are not designed to reward provocative content and denied that political polarisation has grown because of the influence of social media – citing evidence that claimed social media helped people find a “diverse set of opinions” and that “polarisation was on the rise before Facebook even existed”.

Such comments seem designed to counter reporting that executives from the social media company decided to end research that would make the site less polarising – proposals that were described as“antigrowth” and requiring “a moral stance” – as well as arguments that extreme content from far-right sources get more engagement than any other kind of political posts.

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