This past December, Facebook used its Hard Questions blog to address an issue that nearly all social media companies are being asked to answer right now: Is social media good for our wellbeing? And, if not, what is the site doing to take responsibility for this?
The answer, Facebook and external researchers concluded, had two parts: Yes, social media can be bad for you when you passively consume information. If you're endlessly scrolling, looking at articles and images but not interacting with them, your mood will worsen and you'll feel like you have not spent your time effectively. But when people engage with others in comments or by reacting to their posts, they sign off feeling more satisfied and closer to friends.
Last month, Facebook said it would do more to encourage the latter, optimising posts from friends you care about in your News Feed. Now, the company is taking things a step further. Tonight, Facebook announced that it is changing its ranking algorithm to prioritise not only the people you care about, but also the posts from those people it predicts you will be more likely to interact with others on. The decision was based largely on research done by Facebook and outside experts, but also user feedback.
"One thing we consistently hear is that people value connecting with friends and family the most, but they're seeing fewer posts from friends and more from pages," John Hegeman, Facebook's VP of News Feed, told Refinery29. "What we're really focused on is whether things are starting meaningful conversation between friends."
For example, if you ask friends their thoughts on the latest season of Black Mirror — something that is likely to lead to an engaged conversation — your post will likely appear towards the top of a friend's News Feed with the new algorithm.
As a result of these changes, you'll see less of what the company categorises as public content — posts from A-listers, brands, and publishers, much of which has crowded the space in recent years. You may also see fewer videos, something Hegeman acknowledges "we are seeing more [of] than we would be used to."
The change is an interesting one, given that it is not necessarily a short-term business win. Hegeman says that while the company recognises people will likely spend less time on Facebook overall, the company believes the interactions that do happen will create more personal connections and be more valuable. However, as Digiday noted, this isn't necessarily a good thing for everyone: The changes could hurt publishers and other businesses who rely on their presence in News Feed for site traffic and name awareness.
The ranking change will start rolling out over a period of weeks and is "part of a bigger shift that will play out over the next several months," Hegeman added.
It's likely that this bigger shift, like tonight's announcement, will tie back to Facebook's revised 2017 mission statement, which focused on "bringing the world closer together." You can read Mark Zuckerberg's post on today's news in full below.