Facebook: improving the users’ wellbeing or hidden commercial strategy?

Mark Zuckerberg anticipates major changes for Facebook’s News Feed in upcoming weeks. He encourages “meaningful interaction,” prioritising posts by friends and family at the expense of viral videos, ads and news stories.

The changes include a new algorithm, which the social media provider claims will improve our wellbeing, rather than passively reading articles and watching videos.

The algorithm will exclude news stories and viral videos which, according to research, are detrimental. Leaving us with more photos of babies, sunsets and status updates, fewer memes and clickbait.

The announcement arrived via Facebook, from the company’s Chief Executive. In January, Zuckerberg had revealed that his priorities for 2018 lie with fixing important issues like online abuse, interference by nation states and “making sure the time spent on Facebook is time well spent.” The entrepreneur said, he felt a responsibility to make sure Facebook’s services “aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s wellbeing.”

According to the Guardian, the new approach encourages personal posts, limiting the influence of news media, brands and organisations, and attempts to avoid episodes like during the 2016 US election, when Facebook was accused of facilitating the circulation of “fake news”.

The Financial Times reports that publishers who rely on social media to reach their readership are worried the change could damage their organisations. To date, it is too early to know whether trustworthy media outlets would be exempted from the algorithm.

According to Wired, the new algorithm represents yet another strategy to conquer the Chinese market. “News journalism has become a strategic burden for Facebook”, said Wolfgang Blau, therefore excluding news stories, and consequently any controversy. “Wrapping too much journalism around your brand is a mistake for any platform hoping to still make it into China,” said Blau.

The Guardian digital producer Eleni Stefanou believes that despite Zuckerberg’s effort to address social media addiction, server concerns stem from research on social media. Facebook is not getting rid of the tactics that have people “coming back for more,” gaining the company billions worth of revenue from advertising. The blue tick feature, designed to pressure into responding instantly, and live videos, which receive more interactions than regular videos, are part of the invaluable strategy.

Zuckerberg is conscious that engagement with the platform will decrease. Reuters reported that shares of Facebook Inc. fell by 4% after the announcement. “Facebook said its new ranking system would hurt non-advertising content from publishers and brands, like news stories and viral video posts but not change the ranking of advertising that has been paid for.” However, the news agency explains, this system would “leave businesses that want publicity on Facebook no choice but to spend more on advertising and as a result prices will climb.”

By Sara Paciaroni