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Facebook Tested A News Tab Update That Fed Certain Users More Political Content

Internal memos reveal that Facebook tried out a new system, via which certain "power users" would get more political content than other users would.

Facebook has to walk an incredibly precarious line nowadays. The platform's been criticized almost nonstop since the mid to late 2010's and even further over just how inciting and negatively impactful its news articles and headlines are. Political discourse is already terrible on Facebook, with a good chunk of the US Capitol riots having been planned on the platform, and it seems like the social network's own contributions only further fan the flames. What is even worse is the fact that Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is of the same mind, stating that the platform actively benefits from users engaging with such mentally taxing discourse and content. Therefore, the social network stands accused of not doing its job of providing a safe space poorly.

Memos from the company reveal that plans had at least at one point been underway for creating a new way of disseminating the news to users. The system, dubbed "power users'', was a way via which Facebook could both safely disseminate news articles, and maintain its relevance by keeping users updated on the latest hot topics. Power users, as stated by Facebook's own employees, refers to a subset of users that prefers hard news, and therefore would not mind all of the associated intense discussion that comes along with it.
As per Meta'a spokesperson, who contacted DIW though an email, "this experiment was only tested internally in Facebook News, never with users externally". While neither Facebook nor Meta commented on the results of this experiment, or power users as a whole, memos reveal that Devs were rather excited about the idea. Of course they were, not many days come by wherein users voluntarily sign up for the exact sort of content that you're trying to vanish from the public eye. Because, let's face it: news stories can't go away from Facebook. They're a major method via which the social network maintains all of the hard earned users its accrued over the years. In fact, many users, consciously or unconsciously, use Facebook to keep themselves up to date on global news and chatter.

Ultimately, I'm of the opinion that power users were at best a temporary solution. So does Facebook apparently, since they were never implemented. Shoving all of your platform's problems to just a subset of users isn't a solution, it's just ignoring one.


Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Post updated on 18th November to reflect a better point of view from Meta/Facebook.

H/T: Insider.

Read next: Meta's H1 2021 Transparency Report Shows How It Deals With Government Requests For Users Data

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