On Thursday, Facebook announced a major change to its newsfeed algorithm, which will now prioritize posts from friends and family over public content from businesses, publishers, and brands.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a lengthy statement on the decision, which reads, in part, “We’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content … is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” He cites academic and internal research suggesting that social media users are “more connected and less lonely” when they engage with people they care about, rather than passively consuming articles or videos. Zuckerberg expects people will end up spending less time on the platform but that the time they do spend will be more meaningful and beneficial for their “well-being and happiness.” (In November, Zuckerberg emphasized Facebook’s new focus on “time well spent.”)
How exactly these changes will manifest over the next few weeks—especially the degree to which businesses and other organizations will be affected—is largely unclear at the moment. Facebook did perform experiments in six foreign countries that relegated public content to a separate “Explore Feed,” while restricting posts to the main newsfeed to content from friends and family. Yet the FAQ for the update indicates that the platform is not going to such extremes, noting, “Page posts will still appear in News Feed, though there may be fewer of them.”
It seems evident, however, that public content creators like publishers will now have more pressure to publish posts that spark conversation in order to occupy prime real estate on the news feed, especially if they rely on Facebook for a significant portion of their incoming traffic. Of course, if these creators are willing to pay ad money to promote their content, then it’ll show up on the feed regardless.
Multiple outlets have raised concerns that such changes will serve to further reinforce the ideological bubbles that social media can cultivate, since posts may end up generating a lot of conversation between friends and family who all share the same political leanings. But Facebook’s head of news feed, Adam Mosseri, told CNN, “You pick a publisher based on your interests, which are more correlated with your beliefs. … You pick a friend for lots of different reasons,” he said. “Because this [change] is naturally good for friend content and for conversation, it’s actually going to be good for the diversity of opinion in News Feed.”
Facebook’s pivot to the personal sphere comes after a debilitating 2017, as the company faced public and even congressional scrutiny over its alleged role in helping to spread content manufactured by Russian trolls during the last presidential election. Plus, former executives Sean Parker, Antonio Garcia-Martinez, and Chamath Palihapitiya all separately came forward at the tail end of the last year to denounce Facebook for being intentionally addictive, helping to spread misinformation, and generally damaging users’ health and the well-being of society.