Some parts of Facebook are not really a mystery. For example, I was researching compact SUVs over the weekend, and predictably, I began to see related ads scattered in my Facebook News feed. We all understand how targeted advertising works (outside of Congress, apparently). Less clear, however, is why we see particular posts (non-ads) in our News feeds prioritized over others. Facebook is finally offering some clarity.
There is a new option on News feed items called "Why am I seeing this post?" This is an effort on Facebook's part to provide a bit of transparency into how it selects posts for viewing, and to give users more control over what they see.
"This is the first time that we’ve built information on how ranking works directly into the app," Facebook Product Manager Ramya Sethuraman says.
The new functionality means users can tap on posts and ads on their Facebook feeds to get context on why such content is appearing. It also means users can further personalize their Facebook experience. When available, users can find the option in the drop-down menu in the upper-right corner of a post. What you will see when doing that includes the following:
- Why you’re seeing a certain post in your News Feed—for example, if the post is from a friend you made, a Group you joined, or a Page you followed.
- What information generally has the largest influence over the order of posts, including: (a) how often you interact with posts from people, Pages or Groups; (b) how often you interact with a specific type of post, for example, videos, photos or links; and (c) the popularity of the posts shared by the people, Pages and Groups you follow.
- Shortcuts to controls, such as See First, Unfollow, News Feed Preferences and Privacy Shortcuts, to help you personalize your News Feed.
It is a welcome addition, and one that is long overdue. How useful the information ends up being, though, depends on the post. After all, Facebook is not known for lifting the curtain very far, to reveal exactly how it does things and why. However, it is at least giving a general idea of why a post or ad is appearing. For example, there is a Harley-Davidson ad on my Facebook feed. When I click on "Why am I seeing this ad?," Facebook explains it's because HD "wants to reach people who like their page."
Well duh—that bit is pretty obvious and not all that helpful, though Facebook offers a slightly better explanation as to why I'm seeing an HD ad.
"There may be other reasons why you're seeing this ad, including that Harley-Davidson wants to reach people ages 18 and older who live in the United States. This is information based on your Facebook profile and where you've connected to the Internet," Facebook explains.
Facebook even bolds the relevant portion—I'm over 18 and live in the US, and because I "Liked" HD's page, I'm seeing the ad. This is not ground breaking stuff, obviously, but it's still nice to have that information. Unfortunately, I'm not seeing the same option on non-ads. I assume that functionality will roll out soon. And over time, Facebook says the information will become more useful.
"People’s feedback also helped us determine what specific information would be most valuable to highlight. For example, we’ve included examples of people’s interactions that contribute to each of the three signal categories we show in the feature. Over time, we’ll continue to get feedback on 'Why am I seeing this post?' and make improvements," Facebook says.
Now if only Facebook could tackle that pesky problem of fake news...