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Facebook to roll out drastic news feed changes altering what every user sees

'Facebook has a lot of work to do'

Andrew Griffin
Friday 12 January 2018 09:18 GMT
Facebook to change news feed altering what every user sees

Facebook is about to make perhaps the biggest shift in its news feed ever revealed.

The company says it will tweak what people see to make it more "meaningful". In practise, that means that people will see more posts from the people they actually know, and fewer from news organisations and celebrities that they follow.

The changes are intended to allow people to see posts that they "care about" and want to interact with, CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed. But it's probably also aimed to prevent the phenomenon of "context collapse", where people have stopped sharing as much information about themselves.

If users aren't commenting on or sharing information about their personal lives, then that data can't be used by advertisers. Facebook depends on those ads to make its money, making the phenomenon one Facebook is said to have been worrying about for years.

The changes come as the company faces criticism that social media can make people feel depressed and isolated. Indeed, it has accepted those criticisms – but says that the new changes will make Facebook a more positive place to be.

There will be fewer posts from brands, pages and media companies and more from people. There will also be fewer videos, which Facebook considers "passive."

That's because even if people read such content on Facebook, they don't necessarily comment or interact with it in other ways.

"The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well–being," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday.

"We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos – even if they're entertaining or informative – may not be as good."

The move to highlight posts that Facebook considers "meaningful" and reduce the emphasis on others could shrink the social media giant's role as a major news source for many people.

The move will not affect advertisements – users will continue to see the same ads they have before, "meaningful" or not. But businesses that use Facebook to connect with their customers without paying for ads will also feel the pain.

Facebook has long been criticised for creating "filter bubbles," the echo chambers of friends and like–minded people whose views are reinforced by their friends' posts on the platform.

The company says that's similar to how people make friends and interact with each other offline. Facebook says its research shows that users are exposed to more divergent views on its platform than they would be otherwise.

This is difficult to verify independently since the company is cautious about providing data to outsiders.

The changes come after a tough year for Facebook that included congressional hearings on how Russia used it to influence the 2016 U.S. elections. Former executives and Facebook investors have spoken out about how it and other social media sites might be hurting rather than helping society and users' psyches.

Last week, Zuckerberg said his "personal challenge" for 2018 (something he's done every year since 2009), will be to fix Facebook.

"Facebook has a lot of work to do – whether it's protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent," he wrote.

He said it wasn't possible to prevent all mistakes or abuses, but that Facebook was making too many errors in enforcing its policies and preventing misuse.

Additional reporting by agencies

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