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How to master your Facebook News Feed
I decided to sit down and fix my Facebook feed, and the result was astonishing.
Every few hours of every day, I habitually check my Facebook feed. Most of what I scroll through is crap: Either advertising, or posts from people or pages that I don’t really care about. But I am crippled by FOMO: The fear of missing out. With so many hundreds of posts running through my timeline every day, I worry that if I don’t check it constantly, I will miss an interesting post from someone I do care about.
Finally, I decided to sit down and fix my Facebook feed, and the result was astonishing.
My first step was to try to take advantage of Facebook’s built in “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances” friend lists. My idea was to move all the people whose updates I did want to see into “Close Friends,” and all of the people whose updates I did not want to see into “Acquaintances.”
Then, I went into the “Manage List” button for each list, and selected “Choose Update Types.” For “Close Friends,” I elected to view everything. For “Acquaintances,” I unchecked every item, thus electing to see nothing.
I like you all so much!
After checking my feed, I saw that despite my efforts, there were still people on the “Close Friends” list who had updates that were not showing up. Although Facebook keeps its exact formula for deciding what to show on timelines a closely guarded secret, I am pretty sure that the more you interact with someone, the more they show up on your feed.
So I decided to demonstrate to Facebook that I really, really want to see things from the people on my “Close Friends” list. I went through and “liked” dozens of items from everyone on that list. “Facebook has got to notice this!” I said to myself.
Facebook did notice, and after I had like-spammed about 10 people, Facebook decided I had liked enough people for one day and blocked me from liking anything else on my feed. It was frustrating, but the next day I was able to continue the project. No real harm.
Unfollow: The gentleman’s “unfriend”
While wrestling with limitations on “liking” things, I also noticed that I was still seeing posts in my timeline from people that I didn’t care about, even though I specifically said that I didn’t want to see anything from people on the “Acquaintances” list. I decided it was time to unfollow some people.
In case you are not aware: You can be friends with someone, but select “unfollow” so that their material doesn’t show up in your feed. Similarly, you can “like” a page but select “unfollow” so that you don’t see posts from a page. This is perfect for the obnoxious relative whom it would be impolite to unfriend, or the page that a friend begged you to “like” even though you couldn’t possibly care less about its posts.
For a while I was hunting through my friends list or feed to find people or pages to “unfollow,” when I discovered a secret: The Facebook iPad app has an item that I couldn’t find on the Facebook browser page. In the app, on the left hand menu, you can scroll down to the bottom group of menu items called “Settings” and there is an option called “Manage News Feed.”
This page was a bulk follow/unfollow tool, that allows you to quickly and easily go through your friends, pages, and groups, and choose whether you want to follow them. I breathed a sigh of relief: This would make things easier.
Don’t think it was quick and painless, however. In a way, unfollowing masses of people on Facebook is like extracting yourself from hundreds of dysfunctional relationships all at once.
You find that person whose pictures you like looking at, but who has never given you the time of day: Should you really be spending your time following them? You find that acquaintance who posts hundreds of things a day, but never responds to your comments or attempts to communicate: Is scrolling through that person’s posts really worth your time?
For some people, it might be. I am certainly not trying to tell anyone how they should be using Facebook. But after thinking about the sheer amount of time I spend on Facebook each day, I decided I would rather spend my time interacting with friends that I have a two-way relationship with. So if there is someone on my list who clutters up my feed, but who never interacts with me, then: Unfollow.
Pages that I “liked” to show support for a friend or a cause, but that I don’t want to see updates from? Unfollow. Groups that I joined because a friend asked me to, but that don’t really interest me? Unfollow. Pages that post mostly news, even though I prefer to get my news elsewhere? Unfollow.
It was going very well, except that about one-third of the way into it, Facebook decided I had unfollowed too many people in one day, and that I wasn’t allowed to unfollow anyone else for a while. Twenty-four hours later I was able to continue the project, so it was no big deal; however, it still felt insulting, like when a bank tries to charge you a fee for closing your account.
What it looked like when I was done
Finally, I was finished. I had unfollowed everything except for the select group of friends whom I want to interact with, who I know will interact back with me, and whose posts I really care about. I had unfollowed almost every page and group, and I had unfollowed anyone with whom I had a purely voyeuristic relationship. I finally had Facebook configured to perform the task I originally signed up for in 2005: Letting me interact with my friends online.
I took a deep breath, waited for 12 hours just to make sure Facebook had “registered” all of the changes I had made, and clicked on “Timeline.”
That was when I made the biggest discovery of the entire project: My feed was boring.
That isn’t to say that my friends are boring; they are not. But the people I actually care about don’t post that often. Certainly they aren’t producing hundreds of posts a day. If I kept to my previous schedule of reflexively checking Facebook every hour or so throughout the day, there was very little new information. Instead, there were just a lot of ads.
That was when I learned an important lesson: All of the noise and chaos in my feed, all of the posts from people and pages I didn’t care about, all of the comments and random items appearing out of chronological order, kept me effectively glued to Facebook. It took advantage of my FOMO: I felt that I needed to check Facebook every hour, just to scroll through the junk (and advertising) on the off chance that I would see something that mattered.
Now that I have configured my feed so it only shows me posts that matter to me (and advertising), it turns out that I only need to check Facebook once or twice a day. So now, the time I used to spend scrolling through a messy boring feed, I can spend on doing other things instead. I can spend it on doing things that don’t involve being on Facebook. Which, I suppose, is exactly why Facebook makes it so difficult in the first place.
Greg Stevens is a data scientist with over 20 years of hands-on experience with machine learning, predictive analytics, and related statistical methods. His research-driven essays tackle issues in pop culture, politics, and science. He also hosts a YouTube channel.