At the start of January 2018, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the platform’s news feed feature would receive a tweak, which would essentially overhaul its content. Posts and videos shared, liked and commented upon by friends and family would be moved to the top of the feed.
The new algorithm is designed to tackle the problem of a cluttered news feed that is jammed with branded content, click-bait and adverts that ultimately drown out meaningful social interactions.
On his public Facebook page Zuckerberg said, “the balance of what’s in news feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other.”
Zuckerberg said that the tweak was in response to the explosion of video and public content being posted to the site every day. To give you an idea of what he means, every 60 seconds 510,000 posts are made, 293,00 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.
Concern and Outright Panic
When Facebook alters any aspect of their platform roughly 2.07 billion users are directly affected by this decision. Naturally, when the readjustment was announced publishers, company pages and influencers were perturbed about the possible implications. Businesses and publishers fretted that their organic reach would be greatly reduced.
Adam Mosseri, VP of news feed at Facebook, said that factors for ranking content highly would include, the number and length of comments made, the time users spent watching a video, and the volume of discussion a post generated.
As Mosseri explained, conversations stemming from live videos, celebrities’ posts, private groups and other highly interactive post types would be among those highlighted on the reformed news feed. Mosseri assures businesses and publishers that this will not impact their content adversely in the long-term as people who have interacted with their content will still be shown it in their news feed.
WIRED takes a contrary view asserting that brands, businesses and the media organisations wanting a slice of Facebook’s audience will likely have to change their approach or pay up for promoted posts.
Commentators have also raised the worry that this change could result in a flood of homogenous posts which reinforce viewpoints of like-minded people, fostering parochial and insular attitudes amongst users.
Why Does Facebook Need a Fix?
After a year of bad press Facebook is now responding by harking back to its early days when it was seen as a tool for good. More recently, mental health experts and a former Facebook executive have said that social media can be damaging to mental health and society.
Facebook researchers admitted on a blog post that the site can be bad for your mental health. However, they quickly countered their admission by asserting that the responsibility lay with the user: “it really comes down to how you use the technology. For example, on social media, you can passively scroll through posts, much like watching TV, or actively interact with friends — messaging and commenting on each other’s posts. Just like in person, interacting with people you care about can be beneficial, while simply watching others from the side-lines may make you feel worse.”
The new algorithm appears to be a direct response to this criticism. The theory is that better quality content will result in a reduction of passive scrolling and encourage users to interact on the site.
In 2017, Facebook faced a barrage of accusations; of spreading Russian propaganda, promoting fake news, enabling hate speech, providing a platform and network for white supremacists, tax avoidance, running offensive ads and censoring critics.
Hot on the heels of the announcement Facebook shares dipped by nearly 5%, wiping $3.3bn from Zuckerberg’s personal fortune, an estimated $76.9bn according to Bloomberg. As the world’s fourth richest person in the world this sum represents pocket change. He went on to say that the change and resulting financial loss was worth it so that his kids would “feel like what their father built was good for the world.”
It would seem Facebook is trying to change its public perception: possibly this is in response to the growing popularity of social media alternatives such as Instagram and Snapchat.