Facebook is making a significant change and everyone is up in arms about it. What else is new.
Perhaps you haven’t heard about this newest change, but it’s got many of us in the news business a little peeved.
Some background: when scrolling down your Facebook “timeline,” you normally see a complete myriad of posts — recipes from Aunt Barb, a video from the local news station, a link shared by Cousin Freddie about alien sightings. The normal thing.
You’ve probably noticed a gradual shift over the years on what content comes up the most. Links used to be all the rage. Then Facebook made a huge push for video some time ago; for awhile, you had to scroll past 48 videos on how to cook linguine scampi until you came across anything else.
Then came the recent advent of Facebook Live — if a distant friend in New Mexico live broadcasts their paint drying, your timeline will move heaven and earth to make sure you know about it.
It’s easy to see why Facebook went in that direction. Clicking a link takes you away from Facebook onto another website. This contradicts the company’s primary goal of making sure you are on Facebook at least, oh, 21 hours a day. Videos and Facebook Lives are embedded within your timeline feed, ensuring you never have to leave the social media network’s friendly confines.
This algorithm is personalized to the maximum degree. For example, you and I might both follow the Bobcats football team’s page. If I click on every link the team posts and you don’t, our timelines will begin to look much different — Facebook will gradually guide post after post about the Bobcats in my direction, while you will gradually see fewer posts until eventually, you see nothing about the Bobcats at all.
All of that is part of the game. Except, Facebook feels guilty. It became social media non grata in 2016 because “fake news outlets” were rampant throughout the election season. “Facebook is making a significant change”
That, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes a shift away from news and business is the viable path forward.
“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us,” he wrote earlier this month. “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.”
Zuck has decided to alter the algorithm again to filter out most news links and business posts. Replace every story link with yet another recipe from Aunt Barb — that’s what Facebook wants your timeline to look like.
This is total baloney, if you ask me. Facebook spent years encouraging brand pages and news outlets to post as much as possible. That was part of the algorithm! To incentivize this, the algorithm promised that posts would be more visible the more often they were produced. “Facebook is making a significant change”
Users had an abundance of new content to scroll through; brands got more customers; Facebook as a business enjoyed the continued growth. It was, to quote Michael Scott, a “win-win-win.”
Now, Facebook is pulling the rug out from these same pages. Zuckerberg wants to feign regret about his users getting inundated by pizza chains and news reports. Spare me.
If Facebook truly wanted to make a user’s experience more valuable and personal, it should let the user decide what posts should get prioritized. And If users do not want bogged down by business posts, they should unfollow the brands’ pages. Or If they do not want so many story links, unfollow the news sites.
Mark my words: Facebook cannot survive on Aunt Barb alone. If users are stuck seeing only posts from friends and family, they are going to grow very tired of it, very quickly. This was more or less MySpace’s business model — check out what your friends from school are up to! — and it wound up a colossal failure.
Zuckerberg is wrong to theorize that Facebook is merely for dog photos. A Pew Research Center poll from 2017 showed that 62 percent of American adults get at least some of their news “from social media sites.”
Although, even that statistic makes only partial sense. Not to spread hairs, but clicking on a CNN link posted to Facebook means you got your news from … CNN. You got your news via Facebook, not from it. That’d be like eating a vending machine snack and saying you got your nutrition from an airport.
Yes, we in the news business are a little nervous about this change. We understandably want maximum exposure to all our online news stories, particularly of the breaking news variety.
Users can still mark their individual settings to have specific pages be prioritized on their timelines; I humbly request that loyal Messenger readers take the time to do so.
“Facebook is making a significant change”
Regardless, Facebook will change whether we like it or not. It will probably change again in another six months to something else new, then to something else again, and again.
As Geddy Lee once sang: “changes aren’t permanent, but change is.”