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Facebook overhaul to favour family content over news, ads

January 13, 2018


A DEMO booth pictured at Facebook’s annual F8 Developer Conference held last year in San Jose, California.—AP
A DEMO booth pictured at Facebook’s annual F8 Developer Conference held last year in San Jose, California.—AP

LAS VEGAS: Facebook has announced a major change to how its news feed works, giving advertisers and media posts a back seat to what family and friends share on the leading social network.

It could signal trouble for media outlets hungry to pull in readers and advertising revenue, but Facebook says the tweak will result in a healthier experience for users.

The change to the way Facebook ranks posts will put more weight on social interactions and relationships, according to News Feed product manager John Hegeman. “This is a big change,” he said.

“People will actually spend less time on Facebook, but we feel good about that because it will make the time they do spend more valuable, and be good for our business in the end.”

For example, a family video clip posted by a spouse will be deemed more worthy of attention than a snippet from a star or favourite restaurant. “We think people interaction is more important than passively consuming content,” Hegeman said.

“This will be one of the more important updates that we have made.”

In tests since October in countries like Slovakia, Guatemala and Bolivia, media outlets saw a significant drop in clicks from Facebook.

The social media giant is seeking to fix a problem with ad revenue topping out, Olivier Ertzscheid, a tech researcher at the University of Nantes, said.

“Those who want visibility are going to have to pay to keep getting it,” he said. “It could also produce a bit of pull towards Facebook’s other sites, like Instagram (for brands).”

Facebook shares fell 5.4 per cent as trading opened on Friday after the changes were announced on Thursday.

Facebook chief Mark Zuck­erberg has said that bringing people together and strengthening communities in the real world are priorities. The news feed ranking update, which is set to roll out globally in the coming weeks, is expected to support that goal.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, bra­nds, and media,” Zuckerberg said in a post at his Facebook page. “And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Google, Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for allowing the spread of bogus news — some of which was directed by Russia — ahead of the 2016 US election and in other countries.

Facebook has introduced a series of changes intended to address the problem.

“We are doing a ton of work to reduce the frequency of bad content on Facebook,” Hegeman said. “This update is more about amplifying the things people value.”

He cited academic resea­rch indicating that interacting with loved ones was crucial to a person’s wellbeing, while reading news articles or watching shared videos might not be.

“There is really no silver bullet here to determine what is most meaningful, but we are trying to mine the signals to get the best representation that we can,” Hegeman said.

Known for setting annual personal goals ranging from killing his own food to learning Mandarin, Zuckerberg’s stated mission for this year is to “fix” the social network, including by targeting abuse and hate, and making sure visiting Facebook is time well spent.

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” Zucker­berg said.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2018