Facebook Tip: The Company Has Power

October 26, 2021

The sharks are circling the social media world’s favorite chum. In the meantime, here’s a tip.

The revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen did not surprise us, but it is good to see them in the open. The former Facebook data scientist testified that Facebook actively puts profits above user safety. The more users scroll and click, the more the company can push tailored ads and the more money it makes. Since harmful and polarizing content gets more attention, Facebook is motivated to keep that content in circulation. A safer algorithm, attested Haugen, would have gotten in the way of those profits. (Naturally, Mark Zuckerberg denied her testimony.)

While we wait to see what, if any, changes the platform will be forced to make, BGR describes how users can wrest control of their accounts from the algorithm. Writer Chris Smith declares that “Facebook Is Terrified that You’ll Learn this News Feed Secret.” It is a process that may take some time, though there was briefly a Chrome extension to automate it. We learn:

“Louis Barclay’s ‘Unfollow Everything’ tool automated the entire process, allowing users to unfollow their friends and pages. Just like that, the tool cleared the News Feed, helping people spend less time inside the app. If you unfollow everyone, the algorithm has nothing to feed on. It won’t know what to serve you. Then, you can start from scratch and only follow important people. Your News Feed experience will improve dramatically as a result. Barclay explained in a post on Slate that unfollowing people isn’t like unfriending. You remain friends with people. You just won’t follow their posts and have them all dumped into your News Feed. Then, you’ll be able to follow only the people you want. ‘I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time,’ he said. ‘It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.’”

Facebook refused to allow such a cure to spread, however. The company threatened Barclay with legal action if he did not remove the Chrome extension. It also permanently disabled his Facebook and Instagram accounts, which seems rather petty. Barclay must have hit a nerve.

Cynthia Murrell, October 26, 2021


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