Facebook Feed Battle Explained: Why A US-Based Professor Filed A Lawsuit Against Meta

Meta has once again come under the spotlight as a UK-based professor, Ethan Zuckerman, is planning to launch a browser extension to give users the right to curate their own feed

Meta has been through many wars in the past few months. Be it AI chip wars, WhatsApp nearing its closure or mishandling of Israel-Palestine posts on social space, the tech giant led by Mark Zuckerberg is clearly facing a tough time.

Recently, a US professor, Ethan Zuckerman filed a lawsuit against Meta for leveraging and consuming large amounts of user data to keep their feeds engaging for users. Considering the fact, that most of these social media giants cash in via advertising revenue, they get to have a larger control over what users are exposed to.

Ethan is planning to release a browser extension, called 'Unfollow Everything 2.0,' through which users can have an upper hand on curating their feed. If the extension comes into play, the tech giant will likely lose its power to control what users see and what they don't.

What is the lawsuit actually about?

Zuckerman, who is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, also plans to leverage this extension as part of his broader research into how giving users more control over disabling the newsfeed impacts their overall experience and behaviour.

“I’m suing Facebook to make it better. The major social media companies have too much control over what content their users see and don’t see,” Zuckerman stated.

The lawsuit is centered around Section 230 which "provides immunity to online platforms from civil liability based on third-party content and for the removal of content in certain circumstances." It is worth noting that this is not the first time an extension like this is coming into play. In 2021, Louis Barclay, a UK-based developer introduced a similar option 'Unfollow Everything.' However, he later received a 'cease-and-desist' that pushed him to take the extension down.

“We’re bringing this lawsuit to give people more control over their social media experience and data and to expand knowledge about how platforms shape public discourse,” he added.

Zuckerman is also known for creating pop-up or unskippable ads, something that has garnered a lot of criticism. He has publicly apologised for unintentionally contributing to the development of one of the most disliked forms of advertising on the internet.

The conundrum of attention economy

While it is common for social media players to collect user data in the name of 'better app experience,' the limit to which that data remains exposed is not something well-established.

'Personalisation' and 'UGC' (User Generated Content) are the pulse of the attention economy and perhaps the major offerings of social media space, yet the power of curating our feeds remains massively in the hands of these companies. What we see, hear and listen to in the social sphere is largely controlled by the big players that can in turn have a large impact on our thoughts and behaviors.

As for now, Ethan Zuckerman hasn't launched the tool because of concerns about potential legal action from Meta, similar to what happened in the case involving Barclay.

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