Facebook, the world’s premier social network, is planning significant changes to its products in 2018. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, announced in a Facebook post on January 11 that the social network will shift its focus from helping users find relevant content to helping them achieve meaningful social interactions.
In his post, Zuckerberg stated that the company has “always put the friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.” And it is the well-being and happiness of the network’s users that is threatened by content from publishers. According to Zuckerberg, the company has “gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”
The company’s plan is to give an advantage to user-generated content in the News Feed. “As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people,” Zuckerberg wrote.
The shift from relevant content to social interactions can be seen as a movement away from what has been the company’s business model. Facebook is a data-driven marketing and advertising giant. The company banks on the attention of its large user base as a magnet to attract advertisers and businesses. Facebook found its way in most advertising agencies’ media planning software, becoming an integral part of the digital marketing landscape. The model paid dividends — the company saw its profits soar to $4.7 billion in Q3 2017, which is a 79% increase year-over-year. During 2017, the company’s stock value increased by 50%.
However, the announced changes are expected to decrease the time users spend on the social network. They are also expected to negatively affect user engagement. While Zuckerberg states that he expects that the focus on social interactions will benefit the company in the long-term, the short-term effects are already showing. Facebook’s stock dropped 4.5% the day after the announcement. It is still too early to project how the advertisers will react to the news and how big of a drop in profits will the change cause.
Businesses that use Facebook for advertising are not the only entities that will be affected by the shift. The social media network has become one of the most valuable sources of news for people worldwide. Every serious media outlet has been using it to reach its audience. But Facebook has also been used as a channel to manipulate public opinion by using fake news. This is a problem that drew much attention in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
The company has been testing different ways to combat false news. It tried to do it by marking misinformation with “disputed” flags. After a year of testing the feature, Facebook scrapped it because the company found that it buried truthful content that could have been used to debunk the fake content. However, there are some signs that Facebook’s dedication to truthfulness in news might be affected by the announced changes.
In October last year, Facebook started testing the removal of publisher content from the News Feed in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Guatemala, Cambodia, and Serbia. Users in those countries had all publisher content removed from their News Feeds and placed in a separate feed — Explore. For the rest of the world, the Explore feed is a way to find content from publishers the users don’t follow. The official explanation for the changes contained some of the language that was echoed in Zuckerberg’s Facebook post. It cited the same concerns about the difficulty to find user-generated content in News Feeds. Soon enough, publishers started expressing their opinions.
In a New York Times op-ed, the editor-in-chief of a Serbian investigative journalism non-profit KRIK, Stevan Dojcinovic, detailed the challenges the Explore feed presented to his organization. He cited the difficulty of reaching an audience in a country with disputable freedom of the media. Publishers from other countries came out with similar concerns. The media outlets that chose to voice their opinions were less than happy with the changes.
There are some publishers are pointing out at the potential benefits of the changes. Vice came out as pro-change, citing the dangers of living in a society with a centralized news-delivery platform. And while it’s still unclear how exactly will Facebook deploy its new philosophy, it’s more than likely that the consequences of the changes will be felt around the world, in many different spheres of life.