You have all seen it. The net is a place where it’s easy to get fights started, and Facebook is no exception. There’s a lot of users who are very good at finding minor details to complain about. Others use Facebook to dump all their problems and hate. While others feel that Facebook is full of unreal people who just brag about their fabulous and fashionable lives.
Every user brings something unique to the table and every user also get a personalized flow of posts and news. There are no two users with the same feed, and the feeds can be very different. We all have our own social media bubble, or filter bubble.
Good news. If the content you see in Facebook doesn’t feel relevant, you can change it. It’s not Facebook’s content, it’s your filter bubble’s content. You have built the bubble yourself, so you can change or rebuild it. Here’s some tools for that.
News feed preferences
You can find this tool in the same meny as the other settings. Click the down arrow beside the question mark in upper right corner of Facebook’s web interface. Go through the settings, choose what you want to see more and less of, and you already have an improved bubble.
Who’s on your friend list?
Too annoying people can simply be removed from the list of friends. You won’t see their stuff anymore and vice versa. A bigger gun is to block someone, if unfriending isn’t enough. Blocked users can’t send you messages, tag you or comment on your public posts. A good tool to deal with people who engage in harassment. You can find this under Settings, Blocking.
It’s also good to make a strategy for whom you accept as a friend. Everybody who wants it, or just selected people you really know? This is of course related to what you want to post. The more open you wan to be about your private life, the more restrictive you probably want to be when accepting friend requests.
To follow other users
You may want to read another user’s content, but not have him or her as a friend. Then you want to follow the other user, which shows the public post in your feed. This is useful for celebrities who are making public posts, but have no reason to accept a friend request from you. They can of course also make non-public posts that you can’t see.
You automatically follow your friends, but this setting can be turned off. An alternative way to deal with annoying friends is to unfollow them instead of unfriending. You’ll find this button on the friends’ profile pages.
Use friend lists
You can group friends using friend lists, to threat them and their posts accordingly. Close Friends is a predefined list for friends whom’s post you don’t want to miss, while Acquaintances is for people you want to keep some distance to. Their posts are still shown, but at lower priority. You can also select to show a post of yours to all friends except acquaintances. Or exclude selected friends or lists. Or restrict the audience to selected friends or lists. It’s quite versatile! Other users can’t see what list you keep them on.
The Restricted list is for people that you don’t want to unfriend, but still be as restrictive with as possible. They can’t see your non-public posts even if they remain on your friend list. They don’t know they have been restricted, but may of course suspect something when it seems like you have stopped posting.
Be active, selectively
The content of your feed, your filter bubble, is selected by a secret algorithm that is evolving all the time. It’s designed to use all available data about you to produce a feed that is of interest to you. You affect the algorithm every time you read, like, comment or interact in some other way with something. Other reactions than just a thumb are believed to have greater significance, and comments even more. So your actions are interpreted as indications about what you are interested in.
From that follows that you should ignore posts and other stuff that you dislike. It may be tempting to write a critical comment, but it’s best to avoid it if you want to groom your bubble properly. Not to talk about the risk to get involved in a fight.
Every post has a small menu, three dots, in the upper right corner. There you can find options to unfollow the user or mute for 30 days.
How to control the ads?
Ads is an important part of the Facebook experience, it’s after all what pays for the whole thing and fuels Facebook’s US$ 40 billion revenue. Your ad feed is selected in a similar way as the posts you see, based on the profile data about you.
You can improve your experience by being active. Every ad, “sponsored post”, has a menu in the upper right corner just like ordinary posts. You can use it to tell Facebook if you like the ad or not, and that will affect your future ad feed. It’s also a good idea to visit Settings, Ads. Go through the settings and pay attention to the categories Facebook thinks you are interested in. Remove at least the most funny misses. Removing all categories may give you less ads.
Needless to say, but your own behavior is a significant factor affecting how comfortable your bubble is. If you have a habit of starting fights, you get what you ask for. If you dislike fights, don’t start them and stay out when someone else does. Otherwise you will notice that the fights become more and more common. What has happened is that your (ex) friends have used the tools presented here and left you in a noisy bubble with other troublemakers.
Mind the risk of filter bubbles
You can make your Facebook bubble a lot more comfortable with these tools. But be aware of the price, it will make your filter bubble stronger and less transparent. How does this really work?
Bubbles are formed because we form networks with people like us. We have something in common, family, hobbies, profession or opinions. That is people who are more likely to share our opinions than to resist them. Disagreeing people means less comfort and are easily removed or muted, with helps polarize the bubble further. This an important factor that helps radical movements grow. Their bubbles encourage them and gives the impression that their values are more common than they really are. Never use people’s feedback inside the bubble as a poll, it can’t be used to measure how common an opinion is.
You can groom your bubble in two ways. Optimizing for comfort is, well, comfortable. But it strengthens the filter bubble and may shield you from the outside world. The other strategy is to follow different types of people to create a more representative opinion mix. Not as comfortable but more informative.
No matter which strategy you choose, the bubble you build will never be fully representative. So it’s important to rely on other news sources as well. What the heck, why not go for comfort in Facebook and consume the news elsewhere.