Mark Zuckerberg announced a major overhaul of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm that would prioritize “meaningful social interactions” over “relevant content” on Thursday, one week after he pledged to spend 2018 “making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent”.
The social media platform will de-prioritize videos, photos, and posts shared by businesses and media outlets, which Zuckerberg dubbed “public content”, in favor of content produced by a user’s friends and family.
“The balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do – help us connect with each other,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the change. “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.”
The changes seemed designed to quiet some of the maelstrom of criticism Facebook has received in the past year, as critics have taken the company to task for cloistering users in filter bubbles, facilitating the proliferation of misinformation, allowing foreign interference in national elections, and exploiting human psychology for profit.
Facebook was slow to acknowledge the legitimacy of those concerns, with Zuckerberg notoriously dismissing the idea that propaganda and fake news impacted the US presidential election as “pretty crazy” in late 2016. But the company changed its tune in fall 2017, after it acknowledged that a Russian influence operation had purchased $100,000 worth of ads promoting politically divisive content in the lead up to the election.
After a handful of former Facebook insiders began speaking out about social media’s addictive nature and deleterious impact on society, the company acknowledged for the first time in December that passive consumption of social media can be harmful to users’ mental health.
Facebook maintains that active and “meaningful” interaction can be good for people, so users will soon be more likely to see a post from a friend than a viral video.