Facebook Have Introduced Topic Following

The New Yorker
Facebook want you to broaden your horizons, so long as you do it on their terms. Following the release of the 'Explore' tab last month, they've now introduced the ability to follow topics, instead of just following pages. The two very much go hand in hand, Explore allows you to browse relevant content from pages you don't follow on a separate feed, while topic following allows you to curate parts of that stream and put it in your regular news feed.

You can also look through dedicated feeds for each topic, and even view a list of all the different sources it draws stories from. It's still in the open testing phase, and there's every chance that Facebook will just get rid of it if it proves too clunky or users respond negatively to it, but it's too early to make a call on that.

Facebook curate the topics themselves, and for now most of them are very safe. Film genres, nature, science, that kind of thing. Further down the line, you can imagine political topics becoming very prevalent, but it seems like Facebook want to see how the feature settles before agitating that particular hornet's nest. Once they do, though, it could be a good way to help people engage with both sides of an argument, rather than just sticking to information that they would have agreed with anyway.

Once again, this plan of attack falls into line with the 6,000 word open letter Mark Zuckerberg published earlier in the year. In the past, they've tried to argue that the echo chamber doesn't really exist, but now they're actively trying to combat it. Topic following certainly won't solve the issue by itself, but it will certainly help move things in the right direction.

Zuckerberg has argued that people need to see a whole spectrum of perspectives, rather than just two different sides of an argument. At the moment, it's hard to tell if topic following is an effective way to implement that, given that all the topics are things like 'Horror Movies', but even in that limited context, the broader appeal of the feature is evident.

Once the feature does widen to controversial topics, Facebook will need to be very careful how they handle the curation. If users are following, say, 'Guns & Firearms' as a topic, seeing an article about the need for stricter gun control could be just as upsetting to some users as a 'top 10 semi-automatics' listicle might be to others. If they can do it right though, it might finally turn Facebook into a something more akin to the viable, unbiased news source that it's trying so hard to become.

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