Four 2018 Facebook patents to battle fake news and improve news feed

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The past few months saw Facebook struggling to maintain its integrity considering the number of fake news and data scandals linked to it – Alex Jones, accusations of discriminatory advertising and more. Not to mention, Facebook Stocks fell $120 billion in market value after Q2 2018 earnings call. Amidst these allegations of providing fake news and allowing discriminatory content on its news feed, Facebook patented its news feed filter tool last week to provide more relevant news to its users.

In the past also, Facebook has made several interesting patents to enhance their news feed algorithm in order to curb fake news. This made us look into what other recent patents that Facebook have been granted around news feeds and fake news.

Facebook’s News Feed has always been one of its signature features. The news feed is generated algorithmically (instead of chronologically), with a mix of status updates, page updates, and app updates that Facebook believes are interesting and relevant to you. Officially Facebook, successfully patented its News Feed in 2012, after filing for it in 2006. The patent gave the company a stronghold on the ability to let users see status messages, pictures, and links to videos of online friends, but also the actions those friends take.

Note: According to United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Patent is an exclusive right to invention and “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States”.

Here are four Facebook patents in 2018 pertaining to news feeds that we found interesting.

Dynamically providing a feed of stories

Date of Patent: April 10, 2018

Filed: December 10, 2015

Features:

Facebook filed this patent to present their news feed in a more dynamic manner suiting to a particular person. Facebook’s News feed automatically generates a display that contains information relevant to a user about another user.

This patent is titled Dynamically providing a feed of stories about a user of a social networking system. As per the patent application, recently, social networking websites have developed systems for tailoring connections between various users. Typically, however, these news items are disparate and disorganized. The proposed method generates news items regarding activities associated with a user. It attaches an informational link associated with at least one of the activities, to at least one of the news items. The method limits access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers and assigns an order to the news items.

facebookpatent_1

Source: USPTO

This patent is a viable solution to limit access to the news items which a particular section of users may find obscene. For instance, Facebook users below the age of 18, may be restricted from viewing graphic content.

The patent received criticism with people ridiculing the patent for seeming to go against everything that the patent system is supposed to do. They say that such automatically generated news feeds are found in all sorts of systems and social networks these days. But now Facebook may have the right to prevent others from doing, what other social networks are inherently supposed to do.

Generating a feed of content items from multiple sources

Date of Patent: July 3, 2018

Filed: June 6, 2014

Features:  Facebook filed a patent allowing a feed of content items associated with a topic to be generated from multiple content sources. Per the Facebook patent, their newsfeed generation system receives content items from one or more content sources. It matches the content items to topics based on a measure of the affinity of each content item for one or more objects. These objects form a database that is associated with various topics. The feed associated with the topic is communicated to a user, allowing the user to readily identify content items associated with the topic.

facebookpatent_2

Source: USPTO

Let us consider the example of sports. A sports database will contain an ontology defining relationships between objects such as teams, athletes, and coaches. The news feed system for a particular user interested in sports (an athlete or a coach or a player) will cover all content items associated with sports.

Selecting organic content and advertisements based on user engagement

Date of Patent: July 3, 2018

Filed: June 6, 2014

Features: Facebook wants to dynamically adjust its organic content items and advertisements, generated to a user by modifying a ranking.

Partial engagement scores will be generated for organic content items based on an expected amount of user interaction with each organic content item. Advertisements scores will be generated based on expected user interaction and bid amounts associated with each organic content item. These advertisement and partial engagement scores are next used to determine two separator engagement scores measuring the user’s estimated interaction with a content feed.

One engagement score is of organic content items with advertisements and one without them. A difference between both these scores will modify a conversion factor used to combine expected user interaction and bid amounts to generate advertisement scores.

This mechanism has been patented by Facebook as Selecting organic content and advertisements for presentation to social networking system users based on user engagement.

For example, if a large number of advertisements are presented to a user, the user may become frustrated with the increased difficulty in viewing stories and interact less with the social networking system. However, advertisements also generate additional revenue for the social networking system. A balance is necessary.

So, if the engagement score is greater than the additional engagement score by at least a threshold amount, the conversion factor is modified (e.g., decreased) to increase the number of organic content items included in the feed.

If the engagement score is greater than the additional engagement score but less than the threshold amount, the conversion factor is modified (e.g., increased) to decrease the number of organic content items included in the feed.

facebookpatent_3

Source: USPTO

Displaying news ticker content in a social networking system

Date of Patent: January 9, 2018

Filed: February 10, 2016

Features: Facebook has also patented, Displaying news ticker content in a social networking system. This Facebook patent describes a system that displays stories about a user’s friends in a news ticker, as friends perform actions.

The system monitors in real time for actions associated with users connected with the target user. The news ticker is updated such that stories including the identified actions and the associated connected users are displayed within a news ticker interface. The news ticker interface may be a dedicated portion of the website’s interface, for example in a column next to a newsfeed. Additional information related to the selected story may be displayed in a separate interface.

Source: USPTO

For example, a user may select a story displayed in the news ticker; let’s say movies. In response, additional information associated with movies (such as actors, director, songs etc) may be displayed, in an additional interface. The additional information can also depend on the movies liked by the friends of the target user.

These patents talk lengths of how Facebook is trying to repair its image and make amendments to its news feed algorithms to curb fake and biased news. The dynamic algorithm may restrict content, the news ticket content and multiple source extractions will keep the feed relevant, and the balance between organic content and advertisements could lure users to stay on the site.

As such there are no details currently on when or if these features will hit the Facebook feed, but once implemented could bring Zuckerberg’s vision of “bringing the world close together”, closer to reality.

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Sugandha Lahoti
Content Marketing Editor at Packt Hub. I blog about new and upcoming tech trends. In my free time, you can find me humming songs and hunting for new novels to read.

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