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Facebook Conducted An Experiment In Which It Turned Off The News Feed Algorithm, To Surprising Results

Facebook decided to listen to the complaints of its user base and turn off its News Feed feature in an experiment run back in 2018. It turned them back on no more than a week later.

So, what’s the point of bringing up an experiment that was run all the way back in 2018? Well, Frances Haugen has something to do with it. Commonly known as the Facebook whistleblower across the internet and news publications, Ms. Haugen is an ex-employee for the social network who’s taking complaints regarding the company straight to Congress. This is not some bitter individual who’s been fired; Haugen reportedly quit her job. Neither is this someone looking to cause a commotion in the interest of money via a lawsuit or something similar. No, it seems that Frances Haugen’s complaints are very much legitimate and come from a place of honesty.

First, the complaints. Ms. Haugen used to work at Facebook, monitoring political data to ensure that election season went well. This put her in a position to see the worst that the social network has to offer: all the negativity, hate, and strife that populates such social media platforms almost always coalesces into something worse when politics are involved. However, what she also noticed is just how much Facebook profits off of, and even supports, such vitriol. The company’s News Feed, according to Ms. Haugen and some leaked data provided by her, actively propagates articles and headlines that can prove damaging to an individual’s mental health, and contribute to the internet’s “iconic” toxicity.

How does all of this link back to 2018? Well, Facebook’s experiment promised that it would remove the News Feed ranking algorithm as a whole for .05% of the platform’s entire population. The results ended up being interesting, to say the least. Engagement dropped like a stone in an ocean, Groups ended up becoming more popular than ever before, and Facebook made even more money per user, once they actually went through their News Feeds. This sort of behavior seems to almost mirror the internet landscape we have today. Platforms such as Reddit have skyrocketed in relevancy, because they provide an enhanced version of Groups. They also make a lot of money on this premise, despite having much fewer active users than Facebook did back in 2018.

Maybe Facebook saw its decrease in engagement and decided to up the ante with controversy dominating News Feeds nowadays. This is all, of course, speculative. It will be interesting to see how this study factors into the overall Congressional hearings.


Chesnot via Getty Images

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