Lawmakers come for Facebook algorithm with 'filter bubble' bill

Facebook's algorithm is a disaster, and Congress wants to fix it.
A bipartisan group is pushing for the "Filter Bubble Transparency Act". A copy of the legislation was provided to Axios by Meta (yes, Facebook). It would allow companies like Meta to give users the option to opt-out of algorithmic content feeds (like Instagram's News Feed and Facebook's News Feed) that are based on personal information.

In other words, the bill aims at the heart and soul of why Instagram and Facebook are so addictive. Legislators argued that the bill was deadly in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack against the Capitol Building.

"The algorithms Facebook uses in order to maximize user engagement on it platform undermine our shared senses of objective reality," representatives Anna G. Eshoo from California and Tom Malinowski from New Jersey wrote to Mark Zuckerberg in a January letter.

Representatives Ken Buck, David Cicilline, Lori Trahan, and Burgess Owens introduced the Filter Bubble Transparency Act. It would require that a subset (the large ones) of online content providers offer what it calls an "input transparent algorithm".

"Input-transparent algorithm" refers to an algorithmic ranking system that doesn't use user-specific information to determine how users are presented on covered internet platforms. This is unless the user has provided the data explicitly to the platform for this purpose.

This means that Meta (aka Facebook), would have to offer Instagram users a feed option that was not based on data it has collected from them across the internet. Facebook, for example, tracks users' online shopping habits. If the bill becomes law, Instagram will need to provide users with a version that isn't affected.

Notably, the bill would not just apply to Facebook -- other large tech companies like Twitter would likely fall under the legislation as well (though Twitter already offers users a reverse-chronological timeline). There are many exceptions to the legislation for companies with fewer than 500 employees or data on fewer than 1,000,000 people.

SEE ALSO: People fight algorithms for a better and more equitable future. You can, too.

We reached out to Facebook and asked for comments. We also wanted to know if Instagram would allow users to view a reverse chronological feed if the Filter Bubble Transparency Act were to become law. We did not receive an immediate response.

Perhaps our email will one day rise to the top in Facebook's internal press feed.