Barely a week after Mark Zuckerberg promised to “fix Facebook,” the site’s co-founder and CEO has unveiled the first step in what he hopes will be “a much better trajectory” for the social media giant: Taking the news out of your news feed.
The first priority on Zuckerberg’s list is a drastic, but perhaps unsurprising, move. In light of ongoing turmoil surrounding “fake news,” Zuckerberg says Facebook will now be moving away from “public content” — including posts from media outlets, brands, and businesses — and toward more shared content from your friends, family, and Facebook groups.
The goal, according to a post about the move on Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook page, is to encourage more meaningful community interaction on Facebook. Active engagement, Facebook says, has been proven through research to increase overall happiness and satisfaction from using the site.
To do this, Zuckerberg says Facebook is dialing back its emphasis on “businesses, brands, and media” in its news feed and returning to promoting shared posts by users—essentially appointing its own individual users, rather than third parties, arbiters of the kind of content that succeeds on Facebook, and returning the platform to the “social” part of social media.
If you’re skeptical about what this means for the site, or for the many media outlets who rely on Facebook news feeds to drive traffic, you’re not alone. But while there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical, there’s also some reason for optimism.
Facebook stripping news from its news feed is arguably a positive development, but it will mean rocky times ahead for many media outlets
Of course, Facebook isn’t completely getting rid of news—though we don’t know exactly how Facebook’s planned changes will play out, it seems reasonable to assume that you’ll still see news updates from any news outlets you follow on your “Pages” feed, and when you visit their Facebook pages directly. You’ll also still, presumably, see news articles shared by your friends and family. But the news feed itself will now show far fewer articles and branded content.
This is a move Zuckerberg himself acknowledges will probably, at least temporarily, decrease engagement and time spent on Facebook. But, he writes, “I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.” He cites sports and TV fandom communities as an example of what he sees as valuable engagement — a far cry from the sort of ideological polarization that has increasingly come to characterize social media as a whole.
Facebook says more “active” consumption will lead to greater user satisfaction. This might be wishful thinking.
In his post, Zuckerberg says that Facebook has research showing that people are happier when they actively engage with the content they consume on Facebook. This holds true when their engagement involves interaction with other humans on Facebook, rather than merely “passively” consuming the content through silent likes or shares.
But if actively engaging with your friends and relatives on Facebook around the content you’re both sharing and reacting to sounds like your idea of hell, you’re not alone: Numerous academic studies over the years have shown that increased Facebook use corresponds to an increase in depression, low self-esteem, and general unhappiness, regardless of whether one’s usage is passive or active.
So where is Facebook getting the idea that more active engagement will boost happiness? Well … from Facebook itself, because the research Zuckerberg cites in his post was conducted by Facebook.
The changes are a sign that Facebook’s serious about dealing with the problems that have been thrust upon it as the world’s leading social media platform. So, for the average reader at least, no news could be good news.