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Opinion: I’m Taking Legal Action against Meta to Empower Facebook Users to Manage their Content Viewing

The author, Ethan Zuckerman, discusses his positive experiences with Facebook and the frustrations he has with the platform’s feed algorithm. He is intrigued by a software workaround developed by Louis Barclay that allows users to automate the process of unfollowing friends to curate their feed. Zuckerman sees potential in tools like this to create a more civic-minded internet, giving users more control over their social media experience.

Concerns about the impact of social media on individuals and society have led to proposed regulations and measures to protect users, particularly young people. Zuckerman argues that these broad measures may restrict freedom of expression and further empower powerful companies like Facebook. He suggests that allowing users to control their experiences through tools like Unfollow Everything could offer a more balanced approach to regulating social media.

Large social media platforms have shown resistance to third-party tools that give users more command over their experiences. Developers have faced challenges from companies like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, who have imposed pricing changes or sent cease and desist letters to prevent the use of such tools. Zuckerman and his colleagues are seeking legal clarity on whether users have a right to use middleware tools like Unfollow Everything to enhance their control over social networks.

Zuckerman’s lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is focused on creating user-empowering middleware to empower users to choose the algorithms that filter out unwanted content and select content that interests them. He argues that such tools are protected under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which establishes the rights of users, families, and schools to block objectionable content. This protection should extend to tools like Unfollow Everything, allowing users to assert control over their online experience.

If the court rules in favor of users’ rights to use tools like Unfollow Everything, Zuckerman’s lab plans to release an updated version of the software and conduct a study to examine the impact on users’ Facebook experience. He believes that giving users more control over their social media experience is crucial to achieving a balance between powerful companies and individual users in the online world. Zuckerman emphasizes the importance of creating a healthy internet that prioritizes user agency and control.

Overall, Zuckerman advocates for a user-centric approach to social media regulation, highlighting the potential benefits of tools like Unfollow Everything in empowering users to curate their online experiences. By giving users more control over what they see on social media platforms, we can work towards a more balanced and equitable online environment that serves the needs and preferences of individuals.