Alert launcher Frances Haugen exposed major problems at Facebook, but the data scientist also offered a few solutions.
One of his most eye-catching suggestions is to change the order of the news feeds on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook’s algorithms are currently directing users to content that generates more engagement. Haugen told a Senate panel on Wednesday that this approach can have dire consequences:
It exposes teens to more anorexic content, it separates families and in places like Ethiopia, it literally stokes ethnic violence.
She believes that these risks would be reduced by switching to a chronological news feed.
Haugen argues that ranking posts by hour would provide safer content. Facebook may argue that this would trigger a proliferation of spam, but Haugen said spam could be demoted to the News Feed:
I’m a big fan of chronological ranking, or time ranking with a bit of spam demotion, because I think we don’t want computers to decide what we focus on.
Haugen’s proposal may well make newsfeeds less toxic. Engagement-based rankings, however, keep users on sites longer, which is an integral part of Facebook’s ad-based business model.
As a specialist in “Algorithmic product management” which is worked for Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Yelp, Haugen’s recommendations deserve attention. But like someone who says Facebook systematically “chooses profit rather than security”, she acknowledges that the company is unlikely to follow her advice.
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