A look at Facebook's changes over the years in what you see

Olive Hawkins
January 13, 2018

Zuckerberg said in his post that one of Facebook's big focus areas for 2018 is to make sure that the time spent on the world's biggest social network "is time well spent".

Shares of Menlo Park, California-based Facebook tumbled 3.9% at noon in NY, cutting Zuckerberg's fortune to $74.4 billion on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In other words, Zuckerberg just acknowledged, again, that Facebook, as it is now, is bad for you and needs to be overhauled.

In a post on Thursday (Friday NZ Time), CEO Mark Zuckerberg said community feedback had shown that public content has been "crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other".

"And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard - it should encourage meaningful interactions between people".

Although Facebook prioritizes certain posts, like those new baby and engagement announcements that quickly draw Likes and comments, there are no hard and fast rules for what a user sees first.

People who use Facebook know that it has made several tweaks to its news feed over the years.

Admitting that its changes will likely reduce the time people spend on Facebook less was a big deal for the company. In that vein, it's unclear for publishers how Facebook's rules on "meaningful" content will affect them.

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The shake-up comes as Facebook, which now has more than two billion users, battles critics who have accused it of allowing fake news and Russian propaganda to circulate.

"This is recognition of the issues they've faced with toxic content", said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group. So will the publishers of fake news get a leg up on legitimate outlets?

The company has been criticized for algorithms that may have prioritized misleading news and misinformation in people's feeds, influencing the 2016 American presidential election as well as political discourse in many countries.

That will leave businesses that want publicity on Facebook no choice but to spend more on advertising, and as a result prices will climb, predicted Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, which advises corporate brands on social media. Facebook's chief said a few days ago that his 2018 resolution is to fix Facebook, and it looks like changes are already underway. "Good on Facebook - they are doing the right thing, long-term. It may not be good for the business in the short term".

Facebook's popularity and user growth have skyrocketed since its founding in 2004, when it was a sort of online scrapbook and bulletin board for college students. In the company's early years, the news feed was a scrolling update about the personal activities of friends and family members. Since then, annual sales have soared from US$5.1 billion to an estimated US$40.2 billion past year - and the news feed has become increasingly crowded with advertisements and posts from brands and publications.

One other reason why Facebook may be updating the News Feed to include more posts from family and friends rather than news is to combat the explosion of fake news, a problem that first came to light after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Reuters Institute Digital Report found that 74% of United Kingdom consumers preferred to access news in "mainly text" format - and Newman said Facebook's promotion of visual content in the algorithm contributes to a feeling that users' news feeds "are being polluted either with commercial messages or endless videos that people don't want". The move may help Facebook stem a drop-off in "organic" posts - the kind that Facebook is now trying to highlight - that's been a problem for the network for years.

A large part of brands and media companies' strategies is to post articles and videos from their pages to engage consumers - items that aren't considered "meaningful interactions" between people.

Facebook has trained individuals, brands and publishers to rewire their brains towards an instinctual pursuit of what they believe will capture that satisfying like or lucrative share.

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