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Facebook: Stop Fearing the 'Unfollow'

Facebook has a suggestion for how to better filter your News Feed: Unfollow those friends you're sick of seeing.

Facebook has long encouraged users to engage with the content they see in order to improve the company's algorithm — "Like" or comment on what you enjoy and hide what you don't. Now, it's encouraging users to go a step further.

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The social network unveiled a few changes to News Feed on Friday that center on unfollowing people. Now, when you hide a post from your News Feed, Facebook will ask for more details as to why you're hiding it. Do you have a problem with the user who shared it? Was it the publication your friend linked to? Depending on the answer, Facebook will then ask if you'd like to unfollow that person or group as a result.

People silhouetted against Facebook logo
Dado Ruvic | Reuters

"We're trying to encourage people to use the [unfollow] option more," says Adam Mosseri, a product management director at Facebook. "We think it will make their experiences better and their feeds more relevant."

The hope, of course, is that unfollowing friends you don't want to hear from will give you a better News Feed, and a better News Feed means you'll visit Facebook more often.

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Users have been able to unfollow friends, companies or groups for some time now, but Mosseri says there has always been confusion as to what happens when a user unfollows someone on the service. Rest assured: If you unfollow a friend, they aren't alerted to your decision. You'll still appear as friends on the service, you simply won't see their content in your feed.

One major difference now is that people can easily see a list of all the friends they unfollowed. Facebook's hope is that this list will make it simpler for people to change their minds after unfollowing someone, making the act of unfollowing a friend seem less dramatic and permanent.

Friday's update also includes a new settings page where users can see which friends and companies appear in their News Feed most often.

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Facebook has a reputation for tinkering with its News Feed algorithm, and Mosseri hinted that the company may start using this new settings page to gather more explicit signals about what you like and dislike in your feed. Facebook may also share more insights here in the future about the types of content people see in the News Feed. For example, do you see more photos or videos? Or what topics appear most regularly — entertainment, sports or politics?

"A lot of what we're working on now is exploring different ways that this could manifest," he said. "It's one of our focuses for the News Feed team in 2015."

Friday's updates will roll out to all users on desktop and mobile Web versions of Facebook. The new settings page will also be available within the mobile apps, but the unfollow prompts will come to Android and iOS in the coming weeks.

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