Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants you to remember a time when you curated your list of favourite movies, showed off your new pair of shoes, shared some good news, and didn't see using Facebook as a pseudo-masochistic act of poor impulse control. He wants you to forget the time Facebook made you hate everything. And he insists he has a plan.
Facebook had a very bad year with the public, politicians and former employees. But business was good. It continued adding users and its stock price just kept going up. Zuckerberg is torn. He spent the year travelling the US and looking at things. Some of what he saw didn't jive with the world he sees on Facebook. In real life, people don't point at the same news article as their friends and say, "THIS." In real life, people don't tell others to kill themselves when they say they like pineapple on pizza. And in real life, people don't interact with brands as if they were close friends. If Zuckerberg's statement on Friday is to be believed, he's decided to de-emphasise some of the business strategies that make Facebook mountains of cash and reimagine Facebook as a place for friends once again.
He wrote on his Facebook wall:
Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.
But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content - posts from businesses, brands and media - is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.
It's easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there's more public content than posts from your 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.
At no point did he mention that video "exploded" because that's the way the news feed algorithm was designed, or that Facebook partnered with media companies to produce exponentially more video content. He just said that things are going to change. With regards to video, he said there will be greater emphasis on live video in your feed because people tend to "interact" with those videos more than others.
In general, the primary theme Zuckerberg pushed on Friday is that the news feed is going to be more "meaningful". He wrote: "As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard - it should encourage meaningful interactions between people." Zuckerberg acknowledged that he expects this will mean people spend less time on Facebook, but he hopes the time they do spend "will be more valuable".
Once again, Zuckerberg is pointing towards some sort of return to the old Facebook. Sort of like back in April 2015, when Facebook said it would adjust its news feed to bury content from businesses below the stuff you'd probably rather see, such as posts from your friends. And it's like June 2016, when Facebook again said it would push posts from friends higher up in the feed, because "Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family". And it's a lot like when Facebook published a set of "core values" that year to emphasise that "friends and family come first".
But Facebook won't be going back to the old linear timeline or anything. Algorithms will still determine what's showing up, but now the focus is shifting towards algorithms that promote "meaningful" posts. Zuckerberg didn't go too deep into the specifics of what counts as meaningful, aside from a few examples:
There are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We've seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.
Adam Mosseri, Facebook's Head of News Feed, also put out a statement that said the social network would "prioritise posts that spark conversations" and "To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed". He wrote that these posts should inspire back-and-forth conversation and gave examples such as "a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion". The last part just sounds like news and videos that make people argue more, but OK.
Many of the meaningful interactions taking place beneath Zuckerberg's post asked that more power be given to the user to decide what shows up in their feed, or to give users the option to only see the most recent posts. That would certainly help Facebook avoid the responsibility of being a media company - something it so desperately wants. But no, that isn't happening in this update.
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. Now Facebook wants you to think about making sure your post is extra meaningful, and what the meaning of meaningful might mean to you, but most importantly what it means to Mark Zuckerberg's algorithm. Maybe he'll prove us wrong with this change, but for now, we're going to flag this as fake news.