Facebook is introducing a handful of new features that will give users greater control over their News Feed, including an easier way to turn off the feed’s algorithmic ranking and display content in the order it was posted instead.
The changes build on previous tweaks to News Feed functionality. Last October, Facebook introduced a “Favorites” tool that allows users to select up to thirty friends and pages, prioritizing their content or displaying it in a separate feed. The company also offers users the option to sort their feeds by “most recent,” but buries these options in obscure menus.
Facebook is now making these “Favorites” and “Recent” filters much more prominent, putting them right at the top of the News Feed as separate tabs that users can switch between. You can see what that looks like in the screenshots below:
This filter bar is launching globally on Facebook’s Android app today and coming to iOS “in the coming weeks.” It’s not clear if it will be available on the web version of Facebook.
But there’s a big caveat: the filter bar isn’t a permanent addition to Facebook’s user interface. The company told The Verge that the feature will disappear if users don’t access the Favorites tool for seven days. They will then have to find their favorites through the preferences menu for the News Feed and the filter bar will return. Similarly, the “most recent” tab will also disappear if not regularly accessed.
In addition to the filter bar, Facebook is introducing a new tool that lets users limit who can comment on their posts (this can be restricted to friends or just to tagged people and pages) and expanding the content covered by its “Why am I seeing this?” feature.
This latter tool was introduced last April and lets users click on posts suggested by Facebook’s algorithms to see why it was recommended to them. These explanations will now cover suggested posts from pages or people that users don’t follow, showing how posts’ related topics, interactions, and location led to them being suggested.
These changes are relatively minor, but overall give people more control over Facebook’s often opaque algorithms. The changes suggest that the world’s largest social network is keen to deflect criticism over choices made by its algorithmic systems. This is not surprising considering that the company has repeatedly come under fire over studies that show these automated systems amplify misinformation and extremist content in an apparent bid to drive up user engagement — a metric that rules Facebook’s design choices.
Such criticisms have been levied against the site for years, but have become increasingly sharp in recent months as legislators and the company’s own Oversight Board mull more intrusive regulation of Facebook’s algorithms. With this in mind, it’s makes sense for the company to give its users the ability to opt-out of algorithmic sorting altogether.
But as is often the case with Facebook, the company seems hesitant to commit to changes that might undermine its own engagement stats. If the filter bar disappears after seven days of inactivity, it invites an obvious question: is Facebook really serious about letting users choose what they see on the site, or does it just want to give the appearance of control?