Facebook to emphasize friends, not news, in series of changes
By David Ingram and Paul Sandle 1-12-2018
SAN FRANCISCO/LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) on Thursday began to change the way it filters posts and videos on its centerpiece News Feed, the start of what Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said would be a series of changes in the design of the world’s largest social network.
Zuckerberg, in a sweeping post on Facebook, said the company would change the filter for the News Feed to prioritize what friends and family share, while reducing the amount of non-advertising content from publishers and brands.
Facebook, which owns four of the world’s most popular smartphone apps including Instagram, has for years prioritized material that its complex computer algorithms think people will engage with through comments, “likes” or other ways of showing interest.
Zuckerberg, the company’s 33-year-old co-founder, said that would no longer be the goal.
“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 wrote.
The shift was likely to mean that the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement would go down in the short term, he wrote, but he added it would be better for users and for the business over the long term.
Advertising on the social network would be unaffected by the changes, John Hegeman, a Facebook vice president, said in an interview.
Facebook and its social media competitors have been inundated by criticism that their products reinforce users’ views on social and political issues and lead to addictive viewing habits, raising questions about possible regulation and the businesses’ long-term viability.
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.
Last year, Facebook disclosed that Russian agents had used the network to spread inflammatory posts to polarize the American electorate.
Congress is expected to hold more hearings this month, questioning the role social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube play in spreading propaganda.
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