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Facebook Tests New User Content Controls for News Feed, New Restrictions for Ad Placement

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Amid ongoing debate around the potential negative impacts of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm on broader content consumption habits, Facebook’s testing out a range of new control options, both for individuals and advertisers, which will enable people to influence what they see, and help brands avoid unwanted association via ad placement in the app.

First off, for individual users, Facebook’s looking to make its existing News Feed control options easier to find, while it’s also looking to give people the capacity to reduce certain types of content in their feeds.

Facebook Feed Controls example

As explained by Facebook:

As part of this, people can now increase or reduce the amount of content they see from the friends, family, Groups and Pages they’re connected to and the topics they care about in their News Feed Preferences.”

Facebook’s existing News Feed preferences provide more control over what you’re shown in your feed by enabling you to select favorite profiles that will then get higher priority when they post, to unfollow Pages, people and topics from a central space, and to snooze certain users/Pages.

Facebook News Feed Preferences

As you can see in the first image above, soon, you’ll have even more control options in this front, with the capacity to increase/decrease the content that you’re shown from each element – though how exactly that will work, and what impact that will have on your feed, we don’t know as yet.

It could be a good way to provide people with more control over their feed – though, of course, that does depend on how many people actually use it, with previous data showing that many people don’t change their Facebook settings, even when there’s clear reason that they should do so.

Which is why updates like this tend to be a win-win for The Social Network, because it puts the onus on users, giving them more control, while Facebook itself knows that many won’t bother, ensuring it largely maintains the status quo in usage. There’s not a lot more it can do in this respect, but hopefully, with this new push, Facebook will go to more effort to encourage people to utilize such controls, and maximize adoption, and awareness, of such tools.

Algorithmic amplification was one of the key elements of concern highlighted by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in her various testimonials about the negative impacts of the platform, with Haugen telling the US Senate that social networks should be forced to stop using engagement-based algorithms altogether, via reforms to Section 230 laws.

As explained by Haugen:

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“Facebook [has] admitted in public that engagement-based ranking is dangerous without integrity and security systems, but then not rolled out those integrity and security systems in most of the languages in the world. It is pulling families apart. And in places like Ethiopia it is literally fanning ethnic violence.”

Haugen’s view is that these algorithms incentivize negative behaviors, in order to drive more engagement, and as Haugen notes, that is causing significant harm in various regions, including the US.

It’s difficult to define the true impacts of such, but it seems fairly clear that Facebook’s algorithms have changed public discourse, with news publishers, in particular, working to maximize interaction with their Facebook posts to boost overall reach, which often involves sharing more partisan, divisive, and argumentative content. That then leads to more angst and dispute.

Providing user controls to limit the impacts of such could be a good step, but we’ll have to wait and see the specifics of how Facebook looks to roll this out. Facebook says that it’ll begin testing the new control options with ‘a small percentage of people, gradually expanding in the coming weeks’. 

In addition to this, Facebook’s also expanding its Topic Exclusion controls for News Feed to a limited number of advertisers that run ads in English.

“The advertiser topic exclusion control allows an advertiser to select a topic to help define how we’ll show the ad on Facebook, including News Feed. Advertisers can select three topics – News and Politics, Social Issues, and Crime & Tragedy. When an advertiser selects one or more topics, their ad will not be delivered to people recently engaging with those topics in their News Feed.”

That essentially enables advertisers to avoid unwanted associations with these topics, and their related discussions, which could be a good way for Facebook to assure brands that they won’t end up suffering negative impacts as a result of the same.

Facebook says that, in early testing, the exclusions have been highly successful in ensuring ads are not shown alongside such discussions in the app.

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Again, amid broader debate around the impacts of negative interactions on the platform, it makes sense for Facebook to provide more controls, which will help users improve their experience, in-line with their own expectations and interests, while also providing more assurance for brands.

Of course, ideally, if the research shows that there’s a positive impact overall from such changes, you would hope that Facebook would look to reduce these negative elements more broadly, but that’s another aspect that it will need to look into – and may even be forced to explore further, if Frances Haugen’s recommendations are adopted by regulators.

Socialmediatoday.com

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Ahead of World Cup, influencer ‘Mr Q’ lifts veil on Qatar

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Khalifa Al Haroon, known to his followers as Mr Q, has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil on World Cup host Qatar

Khalifa Al Haroon, known to his followers as Mr Q, has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil on World Cup host Qatar – Copyright AFP KARIM JAAFAR

Raphaelle Peltier

At a time when prickly questions are being asked about Qatar and its hosting of the World Cup, Khalifa Al Haroon offers a smile, a sigh and a shrug as he seeks to explain its mysteries.

Known to his growing number of followers as Mr Q, the 38-year-old has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil over the tiny but mega-rich Gulf state that describes itself as a “conservative” Islamic country.

The first World Cup in an Arab nation has put a spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers, gender rights and even the use of air conditioning in stadiums.

Haroon’s cheerful #QTip videos broach everything from saying “Hello” in Arabic to the right way for men to wear the flowing ghutra headdress. There is also an edition on labour rights.

With less than 60 days to the November 20 start of the tournament, he now has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and more than 115,000 on YouTube. And the numbers keep growing.

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Qatar has dozens of online influencers on topics ranging from “modest” but expensive fashion, to the latest sports car being imported into what is now one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Haroon carved out his niche by elucidating Qatar’s unknowns to its growing expat community — and now the hordes of football fans expected for the World Cup.

Haroon — who was born to a Qatari father and British mother and spent 16 years in Bahrain — said he was first confronted by global stereotypes about Qatar and the Middle East while studying for a law degree in Britain.

He had wanted to become an actor, but instead launched his social media presence in 2008 with a blog.

“I was in the perfect position because I was a Qatari who has never lived properly in Qatar,” he said.

– ‘Trust your own eyes’ –

“In essence, I was like a foreigner in my own country and so I had the same questions that foreigners did, and so it just made it easy for me to start putting together information.”

Haroon said there has to be a distinction between “negative news” and misinformation about his country.

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“When it comes to fake news, obviously, I think everybody understands that it’s not true and so the only thing that I could do is show people videos and pictures and show them what we’re really like because you can trust your own eyes.”

Some people, he said, have told him they decided to move to Qatar after watching his videos.

Haroon, who is now a consultant to the Qatar Football Association and an eSports entrepreneur, said he is excited about the World Cup “because people can now come here and experience it for themselves and make their own judgements instead of just believing what’s written”.

His main grouse is how outsiders see something negative about Qatar and then believe that all Qataris “accept it or we all agree with it”.

Many supporters of the 31 foreign countries who will play in Qatar have raised concerns, however, about the welcome awaiting them. Can they drink? And what will happen to same-sex couples in a country where homosexuality is illegal?

The government has insisted that beer, normally restricted, will be available and that everyone is welcome. Haroon wants outsiders to experience “real Qatari hospitality”, with its food and coffee culture.

“Of course there are going to be certain social norms,” said Haroon. “What we are asking for is just respect the country. And of course the country will definitely be respecting everyone that comes.”

“Some people might make mistakes because they don’t know what the rules are and that’s OK,” he added.

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“The point is our culture is all about intention, our religion is about intention, so as long as you have good intentions and you want to do the right thing, you have nothing to worry about.”

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