Facebook gives users more ways to filter their feeds

Users can now see how prominently certain friends or pages appear in their feeds

Facebook's news feed, pictured Nov. 7, 2014, now gives users more options to filter content.

Facebook's news feed, pictured Nov. 7, 2014, now gives users more options to filter content.

Facebook is giving users more options to control what content they see in their feeds.

Starting Friday, changes are being rolled out to let users give more feedback to Facebook about whether they want to see certain posts in their feeds, with a more direct way to "unfollow" friends. Additionally, a new settings page will be made available to let users see which people, pages and groups have appeared most prominently in their feeds, with options to unfollow or re-follow them.

Previously, users could click a dropdown arrow in the top right corner of posts to hide that post or unfollow the person or page. The new option will let users see less from the person or page. From there, they can choose to unfollow them. A person is not alerted when they are unfollowed, but their posts will no longer appear in the user's feed.

Those options for hiding stories will start rolling out immediately for the desktop, arriving on mobile in the coming weeks, Facebook said, though it may take time to reach all users. The new settings page will roll out on both desktop and mobile starting today.

On the desktop, the settings page can be accessed by clicking the dropdown arrow in the top right corner of any page and then selecting "news feed settings." In Facebook's mobile app, it can be reached by tapping the "more" menu and scrolling down to "news feed settings."

Facebook routinely tweaks its algorithm governing the types of content users see in their feeds, and how much of it. But the company still does not know exactly what people want to see at any given time. With these changes, Facebook is giving some power to users to help make their feeds more personalized, which the company hopes will entice them to keep coming back to the site.

"What you do in news feed helps determine what you see in news feed," said Greg Marra, product manager at Facebook, in announcing the changes.

The news feed has become the predominant feature on Facebook for letting users connect and share content. But it's also a delicate issue, with each change to the filtering algorithm likely to promote some types of content at the expense of others. The company said it would be showing more "high quality content" in the feed like news articles shared among friends, while demoting click-bait-type stories.

Meanwhile, small businesses operating pages on the site have said their posts are appearing less frequently, unless they pay to advertise.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking during a town hall meeting Thursday, said there is "inherent conflict" in how the news-feed ranking system must decide to filter the massive amount of content posted to the site.

"Do we optimize the news feed for the best experience when reading, or to help businesses reach people?" he said.

"We optimize for users first," he said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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