A couple of years ago, you may have liked the Facebook pages of some cool new digital media outlets, and maybe even a few older traditional ones too. You started to see a few stories sprinkled in your feed, and they added something to your life. You liked, clicked, and shared them with your friends. All was right with the world.
Then, the volume of posts increased. And they all started to look the same. It was thousands of videos of our two philosopher-kings, John Oliver and Jon Stewart (RIP). It was “Humans of New York” with a comment by president Obama, followed by an article about Obama commenting on “Humans of New York.” It was what the internet was talking about. It was viral.
Here’s how to take more control of your Facebook feed from the viral-content machine. Say you keep seeing posts about 19th-century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and you’ve had enough of clickbait celebrity profiles.
Click the top-right corner drop-down menu and select “Hide post.”
The post will disappear and be replaced with this:
Click “See less from SocialFlow.” The next prompt will be to hide all from the SocialFlow app.
Do that, and you will probably never see another optimized viral news story in your feed again. (This also works for any person or page you’ve liked that uses a third-party to post into Facebook—including Twitter and Instagram, if you have someone who won’t stop cross-posting selfies across all of their networks.)
SocialFlow is a New York-based social-media tool that published 10.8 million stories last year and got 2 billion likes on Facebook. Similar tools include Buffer, Sprinklr, and many, many others. Part of the reason your feed has become overrun is because many media outlets and corporations use third-party tools like these to “optimize” the publishing of stories on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
These bots sift through large amounts of data about how people behave on social networks and then suggest when and where to post publishers’ content to get the most clicks. If fully automated, there is almost no human agency or thought behind what gets posted to social networks, where readers increasingly go to get their news.
Since so many publishers use these tools now, the signals from one are fed into the other, and can produce a kind of algorithmic groupthink. What hiding posts from SocialFlow and other third-party optimization tools does is get rid of the stuff posted by bots, or humans following a bot’s recommendations. Of course, this won’t protect you from anything mindless and banal posted by humans—but if you were bothered by that, you wouldn’t be on Facebook in the first place.
For the record, Quartz also used SocialFlow for a time—for Twitter. And our readers loved us for it.