How to Make Facebook a More Effective News Aggregator

Five simple tips for optimizing the social network. 

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

A majority of U.S. adults now get news on social media. This can be beneficial, exposing people to publications and information they might not otherwise see. Or, as has been the case during this era of fake news, it can be the polar opposite of that. Recently, Facebook has experienced much of the latter, with many citing the spread of misinformation on the network as a danger to democracy. If you’re a user who mines Facebook for news stories, there are some quick, simple steps you can take to filter out the fake news and ensure the information you’re getting is accurate and reliable.

1. Don’t Be Trigger Happy With Your Likes

Facebook’s algorithm weighs heavily on your own activity, such as liking posts and links from the pages on your feed. If you like something from a certain page, expect to see more of that page’s updates on your feed. So avoid doling likes out so readily if you don’t want to be swarmed. Definitely don’t just read the headline; see that you agree with it or that it’s interesting to you, and then like it after actually clicking the link and checking it out. It’s often the worst sources that sound the best. Feel empowered to practice some discretion. The same goes for sharing posts.

2. Double Check the Pages You Follow

We’ve all got those embarrassing pages that we liked back in high school, with snarky titles about hating homework or somesuch that occasionally infiltrate our news feeds with some clickbait-y nonsense. Instead of just ignoring them, take a minute to unfollow those pages as they come up. It will help declutter your news feed and make room for the informative content that you’re actually looking to see. You can do that by clicking through to the profile page for the source you don’t like and selecting “unfollow” in the drop down menu on the top left of the screen. To find all the pages that you’ve liked over the years, go to your profile’s “About” section and scroll down to the “likes” section. Cleaning this up also has the added bonus of feeling less self-conscious if someone else is checking out your own profile.

3. Change Your News Feed Preferences

It’s a feature that flies under the radar, but Facebook’s news feed actually allows for a high degree of customization. To access these settings, click the icon of three dots that sits to the right of “News Feed” on your left sidebar. By going into the “Preferences” section in that menu, you can prioritize which sources you’ll see the most; and in doing so, mark the pages whose content you trust. It’s a great way to filter out the noise. There’s also the option to unfollow pages if you’d prefer to do a mass dump rather than wait for them to appear in your feed. Furthermore, there’s a tool to help you discover new pages — the recommendations of which will be much more substantive and accurate if you follow steps 1 and 2.

Make sure your priorities reflect your actual interests, like Inverse or James Robinson.

4. Understand the Difference Between “Top Stories” and “Most Recent”

Facebook also gives us a handy on/off switch for its filtration algorithm — you can toggle your feed between “Top Stories” and “Most Recent.” Most recent stories will show you posts in chronological order, from everyone and everything that you have followed. It’s good for seeing what friends are up to and checking people’s latest status updates. It’s not so good for sifting through news, since the website doesn’t bother to get rid of the fluff. Top stories, on the other hand, will make sure you see the good stuff (as long as you’ve primed it to do so) instead of the last thing put out there. It will show you a curated mix of news and posts from friends with whom you interact more frequently, along with having trending news popping up. You can switch between the two by clicking that same three-dot icon next to “News Feed” and selecting which feed you’re looking to view.

5. Maybe Don’t Only Use Facebook for News

News aggregators can be extremely useful. They can turn you on to new content and help you widen your repertoire of trusted sources. Facebook, if you customize it well, is no different — but it still can’t free you entirely from the dangers of misinformation; no single source can. Even with an optimized Facebook news feed, the onus is still on everyone to ensure they are staying informed to the maximum degree. Facebook, in its best form, can be a great tool for quick updates and interesting stories, but it should never take the place of real research and fact-finding yourself.