Facebook is doing a major overhaul of its service designed to make it more focused on friends, i.e. content on people you personally know, as revealed by the company’s Thursday announcement that identified a “meaningful” user experience as the main goal of the decision to do so on several occasions. The change will be rolled out on a global level in the coming months and come in the form of a News Feed algorithm update that will instruct the brains behind the order of items on Facebook’s landing page to deprioritize “relevant content” served by pages, groups, and accounts you follow, i.e. everything not posted by your real-world friends. The Menlo Park, California-based social media giant is describing the move as a return to its roots, with News Feed chief Adam Mosseri claiming the core concept behind the network was to enable and strengthen relationships between individuals.
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg expressed a similar sentiment earlier this week, citing various studies suggesting social media can only reflect positively on one’s general wellbeing if it’s primarily used for interactions with people they care about. Facebook is seeking to promote posts encouraging meaningful interactions at the expense of those leading to superficial ones, which it will usually interpret as posts from anyone who isn’t an individual you’re personally familiar with or at least with whom you have a long history of communicating. The implications of the change are multifaceted and start with Mr. Zuckerberg’s recent New Year’s resolution to make Facebook a better platform for everyone by addressing all “important issues” arising from its usage. With that statement largely referring to the company’s fight against misinformation, the change is likely to help it on that front, as reducing the volume of all stories from pages ran by media outlets and other entities is almost certain to lower the amount of the so-called “fake news” that go viral on the platform, at least from a statistical standpoint.
Deprioritizing content posted by brands may also prompt much more of them to start investing additional resources in paid post promotions and advertisement on Facebook. While Facebook went down four percent following the announcement of its News Feed overhaul, the company is still running by far the largest social media network on the planet with over two billion monthly users, according to its Q3 2017 financials, and as such can hardly be ignored or boycotted by marketers. Those who are already spending money on promoting Facebook posts may hence start doing so more aggressively and anyone who isn’t will likely have to consider it in the long term. Prioritizing personal posts (i.e. those that aren’t article reshares) from friends may also weaken the impact of criticism about exploiting human psychology to serve advertisements that Facebook has been facing for years now.
The change isn’t meant to entirely eliminate content from pages from the News Feed but put a limit on it, though the severity of it has yet to be revealed, with the firm only saying personal posts from friends will be the one dominating the content presented to users following the change instead of the other way around, as is the case now. As such, smaller media outlets and other brands that relied on Facebook to drive traffic to their websites are likely to be the first to suffer palpable consequences of the move. The algorithm change may also be an attempt to drive Facebook’s engagement rates that have mostly been stagnating in recent times but are the key to unlocking the full potential of its massive user base, according to many industry watchers.
The overhaul is yet another major blow to the media industry whose digital advertising revenue has been eroding over the last decade, primarily due to being eaten by Facebook and Google. Despite playing an important role in ennobling the content served on Facebook for the entirety of its existence, many online media outlets are now turning to alternative revenue sources such as paywall-backed subscriptions and are preventing users from accessing them with active ad blockers. Such efforts are likely to additionally intensify after Facebook cuts them off from traffic after already taking most of their advertising dollars. The revamped News Feed should be live on a global level come spring.