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Facebook is watching you watch the News Feed

The all-seeing, all-powerful algorithm that controls what shows up in your Facebook News Feed doesn’t just take clicks and comments into account: It also measures the amount of time you spend looking at something, the company has revealed. If you don’t want more baby photos in your feed, start scrolling past them more quickly.

“There are times when, for example, people want to see information about a serious current event, but don’t necessarily want to like or comment on it,” explain Facebook software engineers Ansha Yu and Sami Tas. “Based on this finding, we are updating News Feed’s ranking to factor in a new signal — how much time you spend viewing a story in your News Feed.”

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The change means if you stop scrolling through the News Feed to spend more time looking at a post — be it your nephew’s soccer game or a new offer from Coca-Cola — Facebook will consider you more interested. Like the other signals Facebook uses to populate your News Feed, it’s not the be-all and end-all, and other factors are taken into account too.

“Some people may spend 10 seconds on a story because they really enjoy it, while others may spend 10 seconds on a story because they have a slow Internet connection,” says Facebook.

Rest easy if you’re in charge of a Facebook page, because the company says the update won’t significantly affect the number of people who see the posts you push out. The feature is being rolled out now and it should start making a difference to your News Feed in the next few weeks.

Facebook says the tweaks have been introduced based on feedback from its group of real-life human testers, a small sample of users who tell Mark Zuckerberg’s team about the changes they want to see in the News Feed. Of course the quality of the News Feed goes a long way to determining how much time you spend on the platform and how likely you are to come back — and that’s why Facebook invests so much time and effort in trying to get the mix right.

[Image courtesy of Bloomua/Shutterstock.com]