By Dave Avran
Facebook began 2018 by acknowledging that public content posts from businesses, brands and media are crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.
Mark Zuckerberg has begun laying the groundwork for making that fundamental shift in all of Facebook’s products.
He wants Facebook to encourage “meaningful social interactions” saying, “if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term”.
The move could come at a high price. Zuckerberg anticipates Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users to spend less time on and be less engaged with the social network, including watching videos, a lucrative new revenue stream.
Pressure has been building on Facebook and its CEO as the toxic content flowing through Facebook inclusive of violent live videos, fabricated news articles and divisive messages from Russian operatives to influence the U.S. presidential campaign have been blamed for ripping holes in the social fabric.
There is also criticism that the company’s products exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology to hook people on social media, hijacking their time and attention and undermining their well-being.
Facebook has begun to acknowledge social media use can be harmful to mental health, by releasing its own research demonstrating that when people connect with each other on social media, it has a positive effect, but on the other hand, passively scrolling through social media does not.
So Facebook is now radically altering the formula that determines what bubbles to the top of our news feed, part of sweeping changes it plans to address growing controversy over the role it plays in people’s lives and in society.
Soon you will see more status updates from friends and family that spark meaningful social exchanges and topics you care about.
What Facebook wants you to spend less time doing is passively scrolling through updates on your timeline, reading articles and watching videos, but not interacting with others.
The backstory here is that last November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, admitted in an interview that he and other executives created a “social-validation feedback loop” to make Facebook psychologically addictive.
Parker’s admission follows Facebook’s former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, accusing Facebook of creating “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops” that are “destroying how society works.”
Facebook uses a process called ranking to determine which posts show up in people’s news feed and in what order based on what it thinks they will be most interested in.
In recent years, the company made a series of changes to its news-feed algorithm to surface more content posted by friends and family.
These changes undercut publishers, businesses and celebrities who use it to gain new audiences and revenue streams but have seen their ability to reach Facebook users continue to decrease.
Facebook says these pages may see another decline in traffic being referred and videos being watched, though the impact will vary depending on the type of content they produce and how people interact with it.
It’s gotten to the point where there is so much content in news feeds, media content, things that aren’t necessarily from your friends or from people you care about that you end up being less engaged in it.
We see our news feeds and ask where is all my friends’ stuff?
Zuckerberg says we can expect to see less public content such as posts from businesses, brands and publishers.
The public content we do see more will be held to the same standard. It should encourage meaningful interactions between people.
This could prove to be counterproductive however, as fewer videos watched would stall Facebook’s aggressive push to become a major hub of video content.
It is spending hundreds of millions on original programming and mounting a major live video push to fulfil Zuckerberg’s mission of turning Facebook into a “video-first” platform.
The lure is the billions of dollars in advertising that are expected to migrate to digital video from television that could help make up for an expected slowdown in Facebook’s core business.
It will be interesting to monitor further developments as they unfold.