Face­book ed­its feeds to bring less news, more shar­ing

Site ex­pects traf­fic to fall but aims for stronger sense of com­mu­nity

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Business - Bar­bara Or­tu­tay

NEW YORK – Face­book is chang­ing what its users will see to high­light posts with which they are most likely to en­gage and to make time spent on so­cial me­dia more “mean­ing­ful.”

By cut­ting back on items that Face­book users tend to pas­sively con­sume, the change could hurt news or­ga­ni­za­tions and other busi­nesses that rely on Face­book to share their con­tent.

The idea is to help users to con­nect with peo­ple they care about, not make them feel de­pressed and iso­lated.

“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.”

Un­der the re­vised regime, there will be fewer posts from brands, pages and me­dia com­pa­nies and more from peo­ple. There will be fewer videos, which Face­book con­sid­ers “pas­sive.” Peo­ple will likely spend less time on Face­book as a re­sult, the com­pany says.

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

But Face­book gave scant de­tails about how it would de­fine what’s “mean­ing­ful.”

The changes could shrink the so­cial me­dia gi­ant’s role as a ma­jor news source for many peo­ple.

“It’s in the same di­rec­tion that Face­book has been pur­su­ing for a while: of­fer­ing a place for dis­cus­sion among in­di­vid­u­als, a com­mu­nity space, rather than be­ing a news source,” said Oh Seuk, a se­nior re­searcher on dig­i­tal news at the Korea Press Foun­da­tion.

“It wants peo­ple who have been friends to be­come even closer, to have deeper dis­cus­sions (on Face­book). Traf­fic to news me­dia’s web­sites via Face­book will likely fall,” he said.

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 crit­i­cized 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, but that’s hard to ver­ify in­de­pen­dently be­cause the com­pany is cau­tious about pro­vid­ing data to out­siders.

Oh, the re­searcher at Korea Press Foun­da­tion, said it was too early to say whether the lat­est mea­sure would reinforce Face­book’s “fil­ter bub­ble” ef­fect.

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 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.

Tweak­ing users’ feeds may cause the so­cial me­dia plat­form to lose some of its lus­ter for con­tent pro­duc­ers or me­dia com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially video mak­ers that can­not make money on Face­book re­gard­less of how many of their videos go vi­ral, said Cho So­dam, founder of Dot­face, a youth-ori­ented me­dia startup based in Seoul, South Korea.

“No mat­ter how well we do on Face­book and how great our videos are, mak­ing high-qual­ity videos it­self does not bring us any profit,” Cho said.

The 1-year-old Dot­face has 110,000 fans on its Face­book page, its pri­mary chan­nel for reach­ing view­ers. Dot­face’s videos about a South Korean mother giv­ing a hug to young sex­ual mi­nor­ity peo­ple who could not tell their par­ents about their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion struck a chord with view­ers around the world, ac­cru­ing 5 mil­lion views and many shares, com­ments and likes. But those views, com­ments or share gen­er­ated no rev­enue for Dot­face.

Cho said her com­pany is ex­pand­ing links to other plat­forms, such as YouTube, that share profit with con­tent cre­ators.

NOAH BERGER/AP

Face­book says it’s tweak­ing what peo­ple see on the so­cial me­dia site to make their time on it more “mean­ing­ful.”

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