In an attempt to be more transparent and give more control to its users, Facebook is about to roll-out a new “Why am I seeing this post?” tool, which will give users insights into their newsfeed algorithm.
The new tool essentially goes some way to explaining how the algorithm that decides what appears where in a user’s Facebook newsfeed works. The tool will give a view of the inputs used by the social network to rank stories, photos and video, and in doing so will enable users to access the actions that they may want to take if they want to change what they see in their newsfeed.
The new tool, which was developed using research groups in New York, Denver, Paris and Berlin, will show users the data that connects them to a certain type of post e.g. they may be friends with the poster, or they’ve liked a person’s posts more than others, they’ve frequently commented on that type of post before, or that the post has proved to be popular with users who have the same interests.
Although the tool will enable users to see how the key aspects of the algorithm work, in the interests of convenience, simplicity, speed and security, users will not be shown all the many thousands of inputs that influence the decision.
Facebook is also updating its existing “Why Am I Seeing this Ad?” feature with additional details such as explaining how ads work that target customers using email lists.
Newsfeed Strategy Shift
Early last year, Facebook changed its newsfeed strategy so that posts from family and friends were given greater priority, and non-advertising content from publishers and brands was downgraded.
Facebook’s reputation has reached several low points in recent times in matters relating to the data security and privacy of its users, and how the company has responded to calls for it to clean up content such as hate speech, certain types of video, and political messages from other states.
Most famously, Facebook was fined £500,000 for data breaches relating to the harvesting of the personal details of 87 million Facebook users without their explicit consent, and the sharing of that personal data with London-based political Consulting Firm Cambridge Analytica, which is alleged to have used that data to target political messages and advertising in the last US presidential election campaign. Also, harvested Facebook user data was shared with Aggregate IQ, a Data Company which worked with the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in the run-up to the Brexit Referendum.
In September last year, Facebook engineers discovered that hackers had used a vulnerability in Facebook’s “View As” feature to compromise an estimated 50 million user accounts.
Additionally, last February the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, ordered an investigation into reports that Facebook Inc may have been using apps on users’ smartphones to collect personal information about them.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
After a series of high profile privacy scandals, Facebook has been making efforts to regain the trust of its users, not just out of a sense of responsibility, but to protect its brand and pave the way for the roll-out a single messaging service which combines Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram that could make Facebook even more central to users’ communications. Facebook bought Instagram as a way to retain users who were moving away from Facebook, but these users jumped straight onto WhatsApp. This new service will be a way for Facebook to join all these pieces together, make the best use of what it has, and maximise the value and appeal to users.
The new “Why am I seeing this post?” tool does sound as though it will cover both bases of giving users more control and improving transparency, and it is one of many things that Facebook has been trying to do (and to be seen to do) in order to make the headlines for the right reasons. Other measures have included announcing the introduction of new rules for political ad transparency in the UK, working with London-based fact-checking charity ‘Full Fact’ to review stories, images and videos, in an attempt to tackle misinformation, and even developing its own secure blockchain-based cryptocurrency that will enable its users to have a PayPal-like experience when purchasing advertised products, as well as providing authentication and an audit trail.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has also recently written an opinion piece in the Washington Post offering proposals to address the issues of harmful content, election protection, privacy and data protection, and data portability in his own platform and the wider social media and Internet environment.