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Facebook will now provide more information on why users see posts and ads; How will users react?

Facebook is now updating its “Why am I seeing this” tool for ads and posts to be more detailed about the user’s relevant Facebook activity and other reasons an ad or post has showed up, Facebook said this is the first time that it has built information “on how ranking works directly into the app”.

“Why am I seeing this post?” explains how a user’s past activity impact the ranking of posts in their Newsfeed. The updated tool will show that a certain post showed up because its from from a friend, a group, or a page that the user already follows. Moreover, the user will also see what information influenced post ranking the most, such as: how often a user interacts with posts from people, pages or groups; how often a user interacts with posts with videos, photos or links and; the popularity of the posts shared by the people, pages and groups a user follows. Facebook will also allow users to modify their Newsfeed by editing preferences, and via other tools like “Unfollow” and “See First”. The company said user feedback on the original “Why am I seeing this” tool from 2014 showed that people “wanted to be able to take action”, and “transparency wasn’t enough without corresponding controls”.

“Why am I seeing this ad?”: Facebook will now include more details about ads when information on an advertiser’s list matches a user’s Facebook profile. Facebook explained that it will provide details on when advertisers uploaded the user information they already had (such as emails or phone numbers) or if the advertiser worked with another marketing partner to run the ad. For context, Facebook’s “custom audiences” feature allows businesses to upload customer lists (including names, email addresses or phone numbers) to the site in order to advertise to people they’ve contacted elsewhere.

Facebook’s Newsfeed head John Hegeman said the conspiracy theories about Facebook eavesdropping on users to target them with ads “is a good example of why this sort of tool and work is so important”. Hegeman said people indicate they interests via their Facebook activity, but “because people don’t always understand how that works, they often reach these other types of conclusion, like ‘oh, Facebook must be doing this other thing to figure out what to show to me’.” The changes will start rolling out this week and will become available to all users globally by May.

Earlier in January, Facebook also modified its Newsfeed to show more content from friends and family, and fewer content from brands and publishers. The new algorithm, Facebook had said, will also favor content that draws a lot of comments over posts that are popular but don’t get comments.

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How will users react?

Users will now see that Facebook uses each like, reaction, comment, “subscribe”, and membership to groups for targeted advertisements. They will also notice, for instance, that watching videos means that Facebook will show them more posts with videos. It remains to be seen whether users will make use of this feature, look at how their activity history is granularly recorded for ad and post targeting, or if they will simply won’t care. This especially becomes important given that I’ve heard multiple people reporting on how they see ads about a very specific, odd topic or product they were simply chatting to their friend about, but never searched Google or Facebook for it.

Its worth noting that even if users notice the activity tracking, they don’t have control over the metrics used to target them, although we can see what those metrics were. For example, if a user is being targeted with flight tickets to the Middle East when he does not have a passport, he has no option to remove that ad from his feed, or take control of the Facebook activity that led Facebook to target him/her with those ads. If I feel that the metrics being used to target me with ads do not apply to me, or that I don’t want applying to me, there’s no provision for me to change that metric. For example, if I have changed where I live, or I’ve started a new diet, or I don’t believe in certain ideological or issue-based ads showing up on my feed, I would want to change/modify the posts I’m seeing, but I wouldn’t be able to.

Nikhil adds: What if I want to start from scratch? If i want Facebook to show me content on the basis of no information at all? It’s not clear as to how users will react when they find out what all Facebook is tracking about them.

Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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