By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A lawsuit aims to let Facebook users turn off the News Feed

Mark Zuckerberg, defender of the algorithm. Photo (cc) 2016 by Alessio Jacona.

Imagine that you could log onto Facebook and not be exposed to that infernal, endlessly scrolling News Feed. Imagine, instead, that you could visit your friends and groups as you wished, without any algorithms to determine what you get exposed to. That’s what Facebook was like in the early days — and it’s what it could be like again if a lawsuit filed by longtime internet activist and researcher Ethan Zuckerman succeeds.

Zuckerman has developed a tool called Unfollow Everything 2.0, which would allow users to unfollow their friends, groups and pages. This wouldn’t change who you’re friends with, which means that you’d have no problem checking in with them manually; you can, of course, do that now as well. No longer, though, would everything be served up to you automatically, non-chronologically and bogged down with a ton of crap you didn’t ask for.

So why is Zuckerman suing? Because, several years ago, a Brit named Louis Barclay developed the original Unfollow Everything. Mark Zuckerberg and company threatened to sue him if he didn’t take it down and permanently threw him off Facebook and Instagram. Barclay wrote about his experience on Slate:

I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.

Zuckerman is claiming that Section 230, a federal law that’s normally used to protect internet publishers like Meta from legal liability with regard to the content their users post, also protects developers of third-party tools such as Unfollow Everything.

“I’m suing Facebook to make it better,” Zuckerman, an associate professor at UMass Amherst, said in a press release. “The major social media companies have too much control over what content their users see and don’t see. 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.”

Zuckerman is being represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

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1 Comment

  1. MagellanNH

    I’ve never used facebook, but the approach Dan describes above is how I’ve used twitter from the beginning, and now BlueSky. Until last year I didn’t even have a twitter account (now you need one to view most content).

    Basically, I maintain a set of bookmark folders, organized by topic and I put peoples’ twitter URLs in the folders. For example, Dan’s bookmark is

    I can mix twitter, bluesky, and mastedon URLs in the same folder (again organized by topic). That means it doesn’t matter to me which platform someone is on.

    To check in on a given topic, I right-click its bookmark folder and select “open all”. That brings up a new tab for each person I “follow” and I see all their content organized chronologically in that tab. I can just walk through all the tabs to catch up on everyone. Twitter’s algorithms have very little impact on the content I see.

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