Facebook Couldn’t Handle News. Maybe the idea Never Wanted To.


Getty Images / John Paczkowski, BuzzFeed News

When news broke on Thursday evening of Facebook’s dramatic overhaul of its News Feed, the worlds of media along with publishing erupted. although inside Facebook, the reaction was markedly different — indifference. “No one cares about feed improvements,” a current Facebook employee told BuzzFeed News.

Though the improvements have trimmed $25 billion coming from FB’s market cap along with have likely given publishers night sweat–inducing anxiety, they don’t appear to be generating much discussion within Facebook’s rank along with file. As of late Thursday evening, the idea hadn’t even actually registered on the company’s internal Q&A board, which was preoccupied with different things, like questions hoping for a Facebook foray into cryptocurrency, along with queries about exit interviews along with AI chatbots.

although for most everyone else using the globe’s largest social network to draw attention to their content, the change is actually potentially seismic. While Facebook is actually notorious for its endless piddling product tweaks, This kind of one seems a substantive shift in strategic vision. the idea’s an unprecedented acknowledgment of which Facebook’s core feature — News Feed — has not worked out at all the way the idea was intended. the idea was abused by peddlers of misinformation. the idea was used by foreign governments to attempt to interfere in elections. the idea made people feel bad.

In many ways, Facebook’s planned improvements to News Feed are a retreat coming from the online public square the company helped create. They’re a tacit admission of which the company’s great news experiment — which made the idea one of the most successful publishers from the globe — failed. along with currently Facebook wants to go back to an idealized safe space, free of hyperpartisan pages, misinformation, along with fake news. although when you’re home to nearly 2 billion humans, no change is actually ever simple; Facebook moved fast, broke things, along with changed the way of which the globe produces, consumes, along with shares information. along with changing course more than a decade into one of the most disruptive social experiments ever might prove more than just a little difficult.

Facebook says all of which pesky news in your feed is actually generating you cranky. Also, fake news is actually hard to fix. So let’s get r… https://t.co/Mayif8Cgqg

Facebook has framed the upcoming improvements to its News Feed as ones of which will make the platform a better, safer place where users can “build relationships” instead of whiling away hours consuming “passive” content. the idea’s not about time spent, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the brand new York Times, although “of which time spent on Facebook is actually time well spent.” For Zuckerberg well spent means not just more rewarding interactions with friends along with family, although less misinformation along with fake news — along with presumably less congressional scrutiny as well. For a company of which’s always prioritized engagement along with attention above all else (Zuckerberg told the brand new York Times Thursday of which the change could “cost the company from the short term”), the selfless frame — we are willing to sacrifice attention for the not bad of our users — feels like a departure. along with the idea’s one of which some former senior employees aren’t exactly buying.

“They’re getting way too much credit for being altruistic here,” a former senior Facebook employee told BuzzFeed News. “This kind of strikes me less as focused on fake news as much as a last-gasp effort to get people to view Facebook as place to share intimate updates with friends along with family.”

For the last several years, according to multiple sources, Facebook has lost “friend along with family sharing” to different social platforms including Snapchat, Instagram, iMessage, along with others. “Time spent in Facebook has been declining for the past couple years for the 1st time ever,” the former senior employee said. “Facebook has research showing of which if the percentage of friend/family content gets too low then people don’t find Facebook valuable anymore.” the idea’s worth noting of which This kind of former employee is actually dubious of Facebook’s spin. “I don’t think the idea will work,” the former senior employee said. “along with I think the idea’s a ‘kill two birds with one stone’ attempt, in of which they get not bad press for trying to address sensationalist news.”

Some outside observers agree. “I think the idea makes sense to understand This kind of more as ‘we need more things for people to engage with’ than ‘we’re trying to make the globe a better place,'” former White House chief digital officer along with Silicon Valley veteran Jason Goldman told BuzzFeed News.

For publishers, the change is actually a reckoning of sorts — a potentially massive shift from the way of which media along with news organizations have been building or courting audience, along with, in many cases, the way they create along with present their content. along with the idea’s been broadly met with everything coming from grave concern along with outrage to reluctant optimism.

I *still* don’t know what to make of the Facebook news. We’ve invested too much in This kind of platform as a business to j… https://t.co/gMI6bgCida

of which the shift will cause upheaval for publishers is actually a given, although there’s no guarantee of which Facebook’s goal to enhance meaningful interactions with people you know will solve the company’s fake news problem. While the idea may cut down incidental exposure to misinformation, the improvements could, in some cases, only harden filter bubbles that has a steady stream of content coming from people with similar ideologies. Meanwhile, a retrenchment coming from News Feed into more walled-off Groups along with communities could exacerbate exposure to misinformation. As one platform executive told BuzzFeed News, “the people who end up being chemtrailers or anti-vaxxers do so because of friend along with community groups.”

Given of which research suggests 45% of all American adults say they get at least some news coming from Facebook, the shift is actually a potentially risky change of course of which’s likely to have unintended consequences for news consumers. As the fallout coming from its election interference crisis demonstrated late last year, Facebook hasn’t just reshaped the media, although rewired our lives in unknowable ways. the idea’s altered our political landscape with its ability to influence voters along with upend traditional advertising, along with — from the case of Donald Trump — even decreased a candidate’s need to rely on major political parties.

“the idea is actually concerning, though, of which at a time of immense turbulence from the globe, content coming from media organizations is actually being deprioritized,” another former senior employee told BuzzFeed News. “Facebook has become an essential piece of infrastructure for public content, along with we should be wary of anything of which undermines the platform’s utility here. The media is actually on the frontlines of helping our society navigate the present challenges, along with Facebook has an obligation to help its community connect with information as readily as with friends.”

along with so, with Facebook’s centrality in our lives along with the greater culture, the company’s retreat feels less like a selfless act than an abdication of a civic responsibility of which Facebook perhaps never truly wanted.

Facebook’s relationship to news has always been rocky. The company tried for years to make the idea work for the platform. the idea hired trending news curators. the idea worked with publishers, paying them to create live content (BuzzFeed is actually a partner) along with the idea hosted their articles. although Facebook’s commitment to news has always been hampered by an algorithmic approach of which prioritizes likes along with engagement. In This kind of sense, news, which can be unpleasant along with upsetting along with controversial, has always been at odds with Facebook’s goal. People don’t “like” bad news along with sharing controversial opinions can result in negative user experiences or, worse, unfriending: the ultimate negative outcome in Facebook’s eyes. In many ways, the improvements Facebook announced yesterday are the logical conclusion to an increasingly anxious — along with ultimately doomed — years-long courtship with news. “News on Facebook has actually hurt, not helped, them,” another former senior Facebook employee told BuzzFeed.

News, which can be unpleasant along with upsetting along with controversial, has always been at odds with Facebook’s goal.

To hear Facebook insiders tell the idea, the idea’s unclear how much the company truly wanted to be from the media game. “Public content was all about defeating Twitter originally,” said one. Facebook referral data bears This kind of out. In late 2013 — starting just weeks before Twitter’s IPO — BuzzFeed News reported of which traffic coming from Facebook referrals to more than 0 publisher sites went up 69% coming from August to October 2013. As the former employee explained, This kind of show of strength ultimately didn’t do much to kill Twitter, along with perhaps drew Facebook’s attention away coming from its original mission.

A chart of Facebook referrals to BuzzFeed Partner Network sites coming from October 2011 to October 2013 illustrates the sharp increase in late 2013.

the idea’s hardly surprising, then, of which the Great News Feed Shift of 2018 has made fewer waves inside Facebook HQ. Multiple former employees told BuzzFeed News they believe the move will be favorite among Facebook employees. “Jamming more news along with celebrity content in everywhere was always seen as being at the expense of Facebook’s main focus on connecting people,” a former senior employee told BuzzFeed News. “There were a million different things to do, like improving performance, fixing the broken desktop site, or trying to improve mediocre core features.”

A current employee echoed of which sentiment, noting of which inside the company the improvements are being viewed as a positive step.“Facebook will become more local,” they told BuzzFeed News. “I think the idea’s not bad for humanity, overall.”

Still, after years of grand claims coming from Facebook along with its top executives, the idea’s hard not to view the improvements the company is actually generating to its News Feed as an admission of which the company overreached along with ultimately failed to deliver a brand new way forward for news. More than of which, the idea feels like a scaling back of Zuckerberg along with Facebook’s ambition as a whole. The news game has been responsible for many of Facebook’s crises along that has a not bad deal of its bad press, although the idea’s also played a fundamental role in generating the platform central to the lives of hundreds of millions. Even with news deprioritized, Facebook is actually still among the best ad tech companies on the planet along with home to many vibrant online forums. The question is actually, for the company of which wants to fundamentally reshape the globe, is actually of which enough?

Charlie Warzel is actually a senior writer for BuzzFeed News along with is actually based in brand new York. Warzel reports on along with writes about the intersection of tech along with culture.

Contact Charlie Warzel at charlie.warzel@buzzfeed.com.

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