Mark Zuckerberg is taking Facebook back to basics.
Well, not quite to its true origins – the platform began life as a site called FaceMash, on which people could rate whether university students were ‘hot or not’.
But thefacebook.com was originally a site to connect with friends and family. Now, Zuckerberg is worried that “public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other”.
From now on, your news feed will feature posts from people, rather than brands.
It’s a big tweak and a bigger admission: that something is wrong with Facebook.
Zuckerberg thinks the site will take a hit as a result, saying: “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down.”
It represents Facebook’s first attempt to be proactive in response to the problem of misinformation, fake news and hyper partisanship on its platform. That’s a good thing. But this is tinkering around the problem, not fixing it, for a couple of reasons.
First, it doesn’t address the advertising machine that powers Facebook’s revenues. Tinkering with the news feed doesn’t address the warped incentives created by the attention economy that has turned Facebook into a mega-corp.
Secondly, it’s not transparent. It took a long time to realise the extent of problems, especially with Russian interference in the US election, because Facebook refused to explain.
Zuckerberg says that as a result of the changes to its news feed, he expects “the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable”.
How is he judging this? Has Facebook already carried out studies? Will it share the data?
As ever, we’re left in the dark.
If you weave those two points together, you also realise that Facebook’s money machine will be protected by the changes.
People might spend less time on the site – but that time will be, as Zuckerberg says, “more valuable”.
That means valuable to advertisers, too, who will pay as much – or more – to be part of the new, more caring and intimate news feed.