A new feature lets people find out why Facebook is showing them particular posts
Facebook aims to assure users it’s not spying on them via their phone’s mic for better ads
Facebook is attempting to demystify how its news feed works with a new feature that explains to users how it picks the posts and adverts to show them. The company hopes the tool could put an end to the widespread conspiracy theory that it targets users by spying on them with their phone’s microphones, by explaining in plain English the most important factors that determine whether and when they see content on the social network.
But the vast majority of the “tens of thousands” of signals the company analyses to decide what content to show users will remain hidden, Facebook said, to avoid overwhelming people with potentially irrelevant information. The new feature, which will roll out for users worldwide over the next month, lets people find out why the site is showing them particular posts by clicking on “Why am I seeing this?” in the contextual menu for each item.
The resulting information screen will show generally obvious information about the source of the post, like the fact that the two accounts are friends, or that the user follows the page that posted the content. But it will also show more detailed information about what caused a given post to be placed high up on a user’s news feed. Examples shared by Facebook include “you’ve liked [this friend’s] posts more than posts from others”, “you’ve commented on posts with photos more than other media types” or “this post in [this group] is popular compared to other posts you’ve seen”.
Facebook hopes the explanation will allow users to more easily understand why they may be shown posts they don’t want to see, and to take action to hide or mute them if they wish. A similar set of explanations will also be offered for adverts on Facebook, as well as more information than was previously shared about the advertiser’s “custom audiences”, a little-known Facebook feature that lets businesses upload customer lists (including names, email addresses or phone numbers) to the site in order to advertise to people they’ve contacted elsewhere.
John Hegeman, the head of Facebook’s news feed, acknowledged the changes were a small step rather than a finished offering. “We don’t think this is going to solve everything,” he said, “but we want to know how we can build on it.” Hegeman said that the persistent conspiracy theory that Facebook eavesdrops on users using their phone’s microphone, to target them with better ads, “is a good example of why this sort of tool and work is so important”.
He said: “We don’t listen to people on their microphones. But people do do a lot of different things on Facebook: they indicate what things they’re interested in, etc etc. That I think means you often have a very good understanding of their interests. Because people don’t always understand how that works, they often reach these other types of conclusion, like ‘oh, Facebook must be doing this other thing to figure out what to show to me’. “So our hope is that when you see something, and want to know why Facebook showed it to you, then you’re able to use these types of tools to find out.”