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Facebook is Now Suggesting Topics for Users to Follow in Feeds

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Facebook is looking to expand user engagement around specific topics, with new displays of topics to follow now being shown to some users within the News Feed.

Facebook topics

As you can see in this example, posted by user @whimchic on Twitter (and shared by Matt Navarra), the new topic prompts are based on content, people and Pages that you’ve interacted with in the past.

As explained by Facebook:

“We may use topics to show you posts, videos and other content we think you may like.”

Here’s how the Topic prompts appear within the News Feed, below related posts:

Facebook topic prompts

It’s the latest in Facebook’s efforts to expand people’s horizons as to the content available on the platform. Last week, Facebook also announced a similar new business discovery element, via related Page recommendations below posts in the News Feed.

Facebook business discovery

Facebook also recently expanded its ‘Related Discussions’ prompts to more users, to showcase more content related to your interests, which, in combination, could help Facebook boost on-platform engagement and activity, by helping to guide users to more content, and businesses, of interest.

Facebook’s been trying to work topic-based recommendations into the News Feed for years, even testing out separate, topic-aligned News Feed listings at one point. These latest approaches are less direct, and could reveal more content of interest, while the push is also similar to Twitter’s new focus on topics, as opposed to users, within its following recommendations.

Of course, it’s impossible to predict how effective they’ll be – who knows how many people will opt to choose a topic, and get more of that more general content in their Facebook feed? But given the potential for expanded engagement and interaction, it’s likely worth the experiment, while it may also help Facebook better define audiences based on topic interest, as opposed to just the Pages and people they follow and/or interact with.

That could also help Facebook in its ad targeting efforts. With Apple’s coming IDFA update, which is expected to see many users opt-out of in-app tracking, that’ll make it harder for Facebook to provide in-depth data trails of customer interests. But if it can get more users explicitly following topics, Facebook can still use that as a targeting tool, as its registered info linked to their profile, not tracked data based on their activity.

Maybe that’s the real reason behind Facebook’s new push on topics. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how users respond, and what that means for ad targeting and audience segmentation moving forward.

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UK teen died after ‘negative effects of online content’: coroner

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Molly Russell was exposed to online material 'that may have influenced her in a negative way'

Molly Russell was exposed to online material ‘that may have influenced her in a negative way’ – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Philip FONG

A 14-year-old British girl died from an act of self harm while suffering from the “negative effects of online content”, a coroner said Friday in a case that shone a spotlight on social media companies.

Molly Russell was “exposed to material that may have influenced her in a negative way and, in addition, what had started as a depression had become a more serious depressive illness,” Andrew Walker ruled at North London Coroner’s Court.

The teenager “died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression”, he said, but added it would not be “safe” to conclude it was suicide.

Some of the content she viewed was “particularly graphic” and “normalised her condition,” said Walker.

Russell, from Harrow in northwest London, died in November 2017, leading her family to set up a campaign highlighting the dangers of social media.

“There are too many others similarly affected right now,” her father Ian Russell said after the ruling.

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“At this point, I just want to say however dark it seems, there is always hope.

“I hope that this will be an important step in bringing about much needed change,” he added.

The week-long hearing became heated when the family’s lawyer, Oliver Sanders, took an Instagram executive to task.

A visibly angry Sanders asked Elizabeth Lagone, the head of health and wellbeing at Meta, Instagram’s parent company, why the platform allowed children to use it when it was “allowing people to put potentially harmful content on it”.

“You are not a parent, you are just a business in America. You have no right to do that. The children who are opening these accounts don’t have the capacity to consent to this,” he said.

Lagone apologised after being shown footage, viewed by Russell, that “violated our policies”.

Of the 16,300 posts Russell saved, shared or liked on Instagram in the six-month period before her death, 2,100 related to depression, self-harm or suicide, the inquest heard.

Children’s charity NSPCC said the ruling “must be a turning point”.

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“Tech companies must be held accountable when they don’t make children’s safety a priority,” tweeted the charity.

“This must be a turning point,” it added, stressing that any delay to a government bill dealing with online safety “would be inconceivable to parents”.

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