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Facebook’s News Feed: Why you see what you see

These are the values Facebook uses to write its News Feed algorithm.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Facebook’s News Feed is one of the most powerful media streams in the world. It’s one of the core sources of information for 1.65 billion people worldwide, and whatever Facebook prioritizes in News Feed is what publishers often prioritize in their newsrooms. (See: Live video.)

Why we see what we see in News Feed, though, has always been a bit of a mystery. We know News Feed is powered by a computer algorithm, a set of signals created by Facebook to show you, the user, a personalized list of items the company thinks you’ll like. But what all of those signals are and how much one signal is weighted versus another has never been entirely clear.

Facebook is trying to fix that, at least in one small way. On Wednesday it published its "News Feed Values" for the first time, a set of guidelines it claims to adhere to whenever it tweaks or changes the almighty algorithm.

Here are the top three values that Facebook says influence what you see.

  • Posts from friends and family are the most heavily weighted in News Feed. "Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people to their friends and family," the values statement reads. "That’s still the driving principle of News Feed today."
  • News Feed should be informative. That means learning something, whether it be local political news or celebrity gossip, Facebook claims its second most prominent signal is finding posts that teach people things.
  • News Feed should be entertaining. That means Facebook tries to predict what you would want to spend your time reading and watching and will show you that stuff next.

Why is Facebook sharing this? Human beings don’t cherry pick individual stories for your News Feed, but human beings do write the algorithms that determine what you see, explained Facebook VP Adam Mosseri, who oversees the News Feed product teams.

"I don’t want us to talk about the algorithm as this third party," Mosseri said. "I want to really own the responsibility as a team and want people to understand there’s a team [of Facebook employees] behind the experience."

The timing of this is not random. For starters, Facebook tweaked its algorithm Wednesday in a way that will hurt news publishers that rely on News Feed for distributing their content. The list of values are Facebook’s attempt to explain to those publishers why this is happening.

But the values list also arrives just a month after Facebook came under attack following a Gizmodo report that Facebook was suppressing conservative news in its trending topics section. (Facebook aggressively denied the claims.) As a result of the report, the company laid out, in detail, how it uses a combination of humans and algorithms to pick those stories in an effort to be more transparent about what you see and why.

Now it’s laying out more detail on how its News Feed algorithm is created, too.

If you want to read the full News Feed Values, you can do so here.

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