Facebook to scale back political content for some users

Canada, Brazil and Indonesia will be first to experience the change

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, an iPhone displays the Facebook app in New Orleans.  Facebook says it’s going all in to block the spread of bogus vaccine claims. In practice, that means the social network plans to ban a new bunch of false claims in addition to the old bunch of false claims about vaccines or COVID-19 that it has already banned.  (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
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Facebook will start to reduce the amount of political content a small segment of its users see, the social media platform announced on Wednesday.

The site was under fire in recent weeks after far-right groups in the US used the platform to mobilise and plan attacks on the US Capitol on January 6.

The company said it was looking for ways to improve its news feed function to better allow for users to receive the posts they wanted.

"Over the next few months, we'll work to better understand peoples' varied preferences for political content and test a number of approaches based on those insights," said Aastha Gupta, the company's product management director.

Users in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia will be the testing sites for Facebook's trials, with the US to follow in the coming weeks.

"During these initial tests we'll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people's feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we'll use going forward," Ms Gupta said.

In the aftermath of the US Capitol riot Facebook started to clamp down on some groups. It banned the hashtag #stopthesteal, which had been used by rioters. It also blocked several controversial accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump.

But a recent study by Tech Transparency Project, a Washington-based organisation that holds large technology companies to scrutiny, found the social media site was still allowing far-right groups to gather under the banner "Patriot Party".

Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg hinted at the end of January that changes would be coming to reduce political content. But it was unclear what those changes would look like.

In the US, political posts make up about 6 per cent of what people see on their timeline, the company said.

The company already has features in place to help users manage what they see, including a snooze function to temporarily hide posts from people or groups.

"But we're always trying to make News Feed better, and this means finding a new balance of the content people want to see," Ms Gupta said.