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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Facebook is tweaking the formula it uses to decide what people see in their news feed to focus more on personal connections.

Saturday, January 13, 2018 1:00 am

Facebook feed focus to be friends, family

BARBARA ORTUTAY | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- In coming days, Facebook users will see fewer posts from publishers, businesses and celebs they follow.

Instead, Facebook wants people to see more stuff from friends, family and other people they are likely to have “meaningful” conversations with – something the company laments has been lost in the sea of videos, news stories (real and fake) and viral quizzes on which “Big Bang Theory” character you are.

Here are some frequently asked questions about what users and businesses might expect from the changes.

Why change?

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doing a bit of soul-searching about the negative effects his company may be having on society and its users' psyches.

Now it's his personal goal for 2018 to fix the site and weed out hate, abuse, meddling by malicious nation states, while also making it more “meaningful” and less depressing for users.

While he acknowledges that Facebook may never be completely free of malignant influences, Zuckerberg says the company currently makes “too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing the misuse of our tools.”

The company also faces pressure from regulators in the U.S. and abroad, and a growing backlash from academics, lawmakers and even early executives and investors.

Facebook would much rather make changes on its own than have its hand forced by regulators – or to see disillusioned users move on to other, newer platforms.

Stock drop

Facebook's stock price dropped almost 6 percent on Friday morning before regaining some ground. That suggests investors take Facebook seriously when it says the move will likely make users spend less time on its service.

Less time, of course, means fewer advertising eyeballs at any given time.

This is a huge shift for Facebook, which until recently has been laser-focused on keeping users glued to the service by offering a bevy of notifications and “engaging” but low-value material.

End of exposure

Many news organizations, bloggers and businesses have grown reliant on Facebook to spread information to their followers without paying for ads.

The changes could jeopardize that route to their audiences, though some speculate it could be a ploy.

“It's obvious that the days of getting exposure as a business on Facebook are coming to an end,” said Michael Stelzner, the CEO of social media marketing company Social Media Examiner.

Happy people

Do you enjoy arguing with people you disagree with? Maybe, maybe not. But Facebook's goal is to make people happier using the site – not to expose them to opposing views. So yes, this is possible.

That said, the company says this is how people make friends and interact with each other offline. We gravitate toward people like us. And Facebook says its own research shows that users are exposed to more divergent views on its platform than they would be otherwise. Of course, this is difficult to verify independently, since the company doesn't often show that data to outsiders.

Fewer videos

Admitting that its changes will likely reduce the time people spend on Facebook was a big deal for the company. Video, especially, has been a big focus for the social media giant – and videos have been especially good at keeping users around. This latest move, however, will de-emphasize videos, too.

While it's too early to tell what users will do, there's little reason not to trust Facebook on this particular question.