Facebook has almost silently rolled out a new feature, and icon, to a select number of users.
The Facebook rocket icon has appeared on the menu at the bottom of the app, on iOS, and the top of the app on Android. Clicking the icon brings up a second News Feed that looks like a cross between Taboola ads and Snapchat's Discover tab.
This second News Feed shows videos, stories and other content Facebook believes the user will be interested in, and these posts come from Pages the user doesn't currently Like. This second feed is likely curated based on a person's Likes and previous interests, run by Facebook algorithms.
A Facebook spokesperson told WIRED: "We are testing a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to explore new content they haven’t connected with yet.”
Typically, Facebook tests new features on a small subset of users to monitor their use and popularity before rolling them out more widely and while this new feature has caused confusion, it is not new. A recent, similar trial, saw an alternative News Feed being tested with a small square icon instead of the rocket, and on Android only.
This was labelled Explore, akin to Facebook-owned Instagram's Explore tab.
Facebook has been experimenting with its News Feed and algorithms for years. At the start of June last year, Facebook announced a deep-learning algorithm that could understand posts and messages with "near-human accuracy."
The company said DeepText would improve people's experience of Facebook by delivering more of the content that they want to see while filtering out spam.
Later the same month, Facebook changed the way the Feed worked to make it focus more on posts from friends and family. This shifted the focus away from posts by publishers, including Pages and news organisations.
However, less than two weeks later Facebook's trending stories, introduced in 2014, came under fire after a Gizmodo report claimed former 'news curators' at the company had manipulated results.
Human intervention in the process proved controversial as many had believed Trending Topics were dictated by algorithms.
Facebook has consistently denied those working as part of its team select news based on political opinions yet it fired its Trendng team and modified its algorithms so news articles with headlines it deemed 'clickbait' would be shown to fewer people.
This handed the curation of the list back to computers. This led to the fully automated Facebook trending module pushing out a false story about Fox News host Megyn Kelly, a controversial piece about a comedian’s four-letter word attack on rightwing pundit Ann Coulter, and links to an article about a video of a man masturbating with a McDonald’s chicken sandwich.