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Facebook's Algorithmic News Feed Knows Better Than You Do
What do you really want to read about? Facebook tries to provide a news feed with an algorithmic ranking system that will serve you best. Some humans think this is open to manipulation.
In testimony to U.S. Congress and abroad, whistleblower Frances Haugen has pointed to the algorithm as central to the social network’s problems, arguing that it systematically amplifies and rewards hateful, divisive, misleading and sometimes outright false content by putting it at the top of users’ feeds. And previously reported internal documents, which Haugen provided to regulators and media outlets, including The Washington Post, have shown how Facebook crafts its ranking system to keep users hooked, sometimes at the cost of angering or misinforming them.
A growing number of lawmakers in both parties now think users should have an option to disable such automated ranking systems — for good. A bill introduced in the House of Representatives this week would require social media companies to offer a version of their services that doesn’t rely on opaque algorithms to decide what users see.
Facebook is convinced that users prefer their algorithm over any other scheme that has been proposed.
In 2014, another internal report, titled “Feed ranking is good,” summarized the results of tests that found allowing users to turn off the algorithm led them to spend less time in their news feeds, post less often and interact less. Ultimately, they began logging into Facebook less often, imperiling the years-long growth in user engagement that has long powered the company’s lucrative advertising business. Without an algorithm deciding which posts to show at the top of users’ feeds, concluded the report’s author, whose name was redacted, “Facebook would probably be shrinking.”
Science fiction writer Frederik Pohl has explored this future in his 1966 novel The Age of the Pussyfoot. He describes the interests profile that lets users direct the computer systems in providing guidance on how to spend their time.
The computer network learns all about you; even children had special child versions of the joymakers that mediated all of their social interactions.
Children could even call up simulogs that helped children learn about social interactions (and let the computer systems learn about the children).
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