Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

“After this year’s fake news and Russian micro-targeting fiascos, Facebook and others will be forced to loosen their grip over our algorithmically determined timelines to other alternatives if they want to keep our attention.”

We’ll start filtering our feeds in new ways. After this year’s fake news and Russian micro-targeting fiascos, Facebook and others will be forced to loosen their grip over our algorithmically determined timelines to other alternatives if they want to keep our attention.

Users will be able to subscribe to filters, trusted curators who overlay onto the standard feed-filtering algorithms. Picture user interfaces with new levers for control. What’s the balance between news articles and friend updates you want in your feed this week? Want to filter out all Trump news for the day? Stop showing my prankster videos. Subscribe to only show me AP-verified news in my feed.

The MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media has been experimenting with what the feed might look like with users in control. Their Gobo project allows users to sign in with their existing social accounts and presents filter sliders to directly tweak the outputs of the feed, and even shows you what was taken out with those filters applied. Far from a black box, this is the closest we’ve come to being able to express our filtering intentions and preferences outright, instead of allowing them to be inferred and assumed from all our previous behaviors.

Imagine being able to mute all men in your feed for just a few hours at a time! Or cutting back on “rudeness” or sensationalism in your feed.

For the record, I made a similar argument last year, but the crises of 2017 have opened up new opportunities in user demand and platform remediation efforts.

If Facebook continues to assiduously avoid being a “media company,” it will have to start letting do their vetting and filtering for them. Curation by an open market of trusted algorithms, rather than one engineered expressly to keep you on the site longer will lead to better experiences and perhaps even increased user literacy around media consumption in our personalized feeds.

Sara M. Watson is a technology critic and affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

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