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Facebook whistleblower has an obvious solution to fix the news feed

Ditch the algorithm!

Facebook whistleblower has an obvious solution to fix the news feed
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen has exposed major problems at Facebook, but the data scientist has also proposed some solutions.

One of her most eye-catching suggestions is changing the ordering of news feeds on Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook’s algorithms currently steer users to content that generates more engagement. Haugen told a Senate panel on Wednesday that this approach can have dire consequences:

It is causing teenagers to be exposed to more anorexia content, it is pulling families apart, and in places like Ethiopia, it’s literally fanning ethnic violence.

She believes these risks would be reduced by switching to a chronological newsfeed.

Haugen argues that ordering posts by time would deliver safer content. Facebook may argue that this would trigger a proliferation of spam, but Haugen said that spam could be demoted in the news feed:

I’m a strong proponent of chronological ranking, or ordering by time with a little bit of spam demotion, because I think we don’t want computers deciding what we focus on.

Haugen’s proposal may well make news feeds less toxic. Engagement-based rankings, however, keep users on the sites for longer, which is integral to Facebook’s ad-based business model.

As a specialist in “algorithmic product management” who’s worked for Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and Yelp, Haugen’s recommendations merit attention. But as someone who says Facebook consistently “chooses profit over safety,” she recognizes that the company is unlikely to follow her advice.

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