Fight the Algorithm and Make Facebook a Bit Less Rubbish

The offending Water Vole. 

The image above of a water vole recently entered my "news" feed on Facebook. It is very cute and it is a great image which made me smile. However, I did not engage with it and despite this, it was at the top of my news feed for days which was annoying as all I want to see is the posts, shares, likes and comments from my "friends" and the pages I follow, ordered by date and time.

Thankfully for Chrome users on a PC, there is the Social Fixer plugin which allows you to make your most recent feed the default feed. It also lets you hide the left and right columns, making it look much more like a mobile app. On a Windows PC, you can also then "Add to desktop" from the Chrome "More Tools" option in settings and tick "Open as Window". You will then have a desktop shortcut that will open like an app, which you can also pin to your taskbar with the Facebook icon.  In Windows 10 it will appear in your app list, but at present if you pin it to your start page it does not show the Facebook icon. You can do it with any web page, and some like BBC iPlayer will have an icon when pinned to the start page.

This will stop the Facebook page looking 1996ish and will mean you do not have to bother with the Windows Facebook app which is painfully slow to load, at least on an oldish but powerful laptop. If you want to have Facebook notifications then you can install the app for that, as it is the one part that works well, just don't bother opening posts from notifications. If you are "niche" enough to have a Windows 10 phone, you can get your Facebook notifications on your PC from your phone. You can also get notifications via Chrome, as long as you keep Chrome open.

If you do not want to have to use Chrome, then Social Fixer is available in Firefox, Safari, Opera and is coming soon to the Windows 10 Edge browser. There is also a 3rd party Facebook Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app which has been reviewed on AAWP.  It is simply a wrap-round of the Facebook web page, so unlike other third party apps which have Facebook integration, it is not restricted to just showing notifications.  But despite not being able to add smiley face or sad face "engagements", I still prefer the old Microsoft created Facebook app for Windows Phone and you can pin "most recent" to  your start screen. The IOS ported Facebook app from Facebook is just as bad as their desktop app.

A screen grab of Social Fixer as a Chrome app on a Windows Laptop. 

However, despite all of above, you can fight the algorithm, but not defeat it, as I still find that some content is in my news feed or notifications but not in "most recent", but with Social Fixer and in the mobile app it is pretty easy to switch between the them.

So, despite having a web page from the 90s, rubbish apps and not letting you properly control what content you get to see, Facebook has come to dominate the social media landscape, not just for keeping in touch with acquaintances as "Friends" but also for reaching new audiences for brands and for sharing "news".

It is impressive the organic reach that can be achieved by the likes of AAV, purely on the basis of great content and even an automated page for my Mark Steel Articles automated blog can apparently "reach" thousands, so it is not just Macedonians or Democratic supporting Californians  creating populist click bait for deplorables. 

But many are voicing concerns about the way Facebook is starting to dominate news sharing and the power of their algorithm, as Adam Curtis sets out in his latest film on the BBC's iPlayer:

"Social Media created filters, complex algorithms that looked at what individuals liked and then fed them more of the same back to them. In the process, individuals began to move, without noticing, into bubbles that isolated them from enormous amounts of other information. They only saw and heard what they liked and the news feeds excluded anything that might challenge people's pre-existing beliefs."

The film was made before the Trump "victory", but if you watched it now you would think it was post-election and Mr Curtis is as thought provoking as ever. But there is nothing new about news bubbles, what is new is algorithms deciding what is seen or highlighted in your bubble. You can create your own bubble and control what enters it, and if you want to burst your bubble all you have to do is look at comment sections. I recently read a comment in the Independent that said all was not quite lost as they had seen a reasonably agreeable article in The Daily Mail with a number of positive reactions in the comment section, but one of the many deplorable trolls that inhabit The Independents comment section replied that it was only because The Daily Mail comment section has become overrun by lefty trolls...

You can follow blogs, news sites or sections of news sites, or each writer, often by email but also by good old fashioned Rich Site Summary aka Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and it is now easier than ever thanks to the likes of Digg, Feedly or The Old Reader and all are now cross platform and devices, with great apps for PC and mobile. Facebook is best left to keeping up with distant "friends" or for posting photos of you at your most photogenic or with your most photogenic acquaintances or cute water voles....

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