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'Unfollow Everything 2.0': Can Facebook users control their own feeds?

Meta's logo is seen on a sign at the company's headquarters.
Meta's logo is seen on a sign at the company's headquarters. Copyright Godofredo A. Vasquez/AP Photo
Copyright Godofredo A. Vasquez/AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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A professor is trying to pre-emptively get a court to decide whether Facebook users can control their own news feeds.

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A new lawsuit asks whether social media users can control what they see on their Facebook feeds.

Last week, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a lawsuit against Meta, Facebook's parent company, on behalf of a professor who wants to release a tool to empower social media users.

University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Ethan Zuckerman would like to release a tool called "Unfollow Everything 2.0".

This browser extension "would allow Facebook users to automatically unfollow their friends, groups, and pages, and, in doing so, to effectively turn off their newsfeeds, which Facebook algorithmically sorts to drive user engagement," the Knight Institute said in a statement.

Attempt to pre-emptively protect professor

The lawsuit asks the court to determine if a US law used to shield internet companies from liability would protect Zuckerman before he releases the tool.

One provision of the law provides immunity to software developers who have created tools to filter or disallow content the provider or user considers objectionable.

The lawsuit asks the court to determine if a Facebook feed could fall into this category.

The Knight Institute said that Zuckerman has not released the tool because he fears that Facebook's parent company Meta would sue him. 

UK developer Louis Barclay released a similar tool called Unfollow Everything but took it down in 2021 after receiving a cease-and-desist letter and a lifetime Facebook ban from the company.

“The reason it’s worth challenging Facebook on this is that right now we have very little control as users over how we use these networks," Zuckerman said in an interview.

"We basically get whatever controls Facebook wants. And that’s actually pretty different from how the internet has worked historically".

Email, for instance, lets people use different clients, browsers or anti-tracking software. Meta declined to comment.

While Facebook does allow users to manually unfollow everything, the process can be cumbersome with hundreds or even thousands of friends, groups and businesses that people often follow.

Zuckerman also wants to study how turning off a Facebook feed affects people's experience on the platform.

Users would have to agree to take part in the study as using the browser tool would not automatically enrol participants.

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