How to Use Facebook as a Powerful and Safe News Source
Kurt Wagner '12
Facebook can be a great place to catch up on news, which is why two-thirds of the site’s U.S. users claim they get their news fix or at least scan the headlines via this social network. It’s a one-stop-shop that allows people to hear from numerous outlets or personalities in one place.
But Facebook can also be a dangerous place to get news if you’re not careful. There’s a lot of false information (aka “fake news”) floating around these days, and Facebook can be a confusing place to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the product’s features. If you’re getting your news from Facebook, or think you might want to use the service to stay informed, here’s how to do it.
Create a List of News Sources
The simplest way to get news on a continual basis from Facebook is to follow news publishers and people you want to hear from. Make a list of 10 or so news sources you want to hear from regularly—they can be publishers like The New York Times, individual celebrities or politicians, or even governmental organizations or nonprofits you care about. (Virtually everyone has a Facebook page these days.) Simply search for the groups you want to hear from and click on the “follow” button near the top of their profile. Keep an eye out for a small blue checkmark next to a Page’s name — Facebook adds these checks next to publishers that it has verified to be legitimate so that users don’t accidentally follow imposters.
Set Up Alerts
If there is a person or entity you absolutely must hear from as soon as they post, you can also hover over that same “follow” button with your cursor and click on the “notifications” option from the ensuing drop-down menu. Here you can ask Facebook to send you a notification to your smartphone whenever that user shares a new post. If this feels like too much, but you still want to be sure you see everything a certain news outlet or journalist posts, you can also select the “see first” option from that same drop down menu. This will guarantee that any posts you haven’t seen from your preferred sources will appear at the top of your feed the next time you’re on Facebook. If you ever change your mind, you can “unfollow” sources as well. Simply return to their profile page and click “unfollow.” Don’t be afraid to do this. Some relationships aren’t meant to last forever.
Remember: Your Feed Is Personalized
One of Facebook’s most important characteristics is that the core feed of articles and photos you see is personalized based on those things Facebook thinks you want to see. The secret to ensuring that the company knows what you like and don’t like is to actively engage with the service—that means clicking on links, liking or commenting on posts, or hiding things you dislike. If you click on a story from The New York Times, for example, Facebook will assume you want to see more of that publisher’s stories. If you hide a post from The New York Times by clicking on the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the post and selecting “hide,” Facebook will also know you didn’t like that topic or article and show you fewer things like that.
Be Conscious of What You Are Reading
It’s common knowledge that there’s a lot of false information floating around Facebook. If you are following legitimate news sources, you should be safe. But always remember to look closely at what you are reading. Sometimes people you trust can accidentally share headlines they expect to be true without ever reading the actual article. Also, remember that a personalized feed means it can be very easy to get stuck in what is called a “filter bubble.” That means you only see stories and ideas that align with the personal beliefs you already have. That can make Facebook a welcome and comfortable place to find news, but not necessarily a great place for ensuring that you see all sides of a story or argument. Unfortunately, there is no technical fix for this right now. You can always try and create your own fix by manually following accounts from news sources that may offer different points of view (e.g., The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal).
If you like Facebook’s personalized news strategy, but you aren’t a fan of the service, you could try other, similar news distributors. Apple offers “Apple News” for those who use iOS devices, like iPhones or iPads, or there are apps you can download, like Flipboard, that let you pick and choose all the topics you want to read about. No matter where you get your news though, just be diligent about the original source. As the saying goes, don’t blame the messenger.