How to ‘Fix’ Facebook

26

January, 2018

 

  • Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to transform Facebook’s News Feed in 2018
  • The changes are in response to research showing that passive consumption of posts is unhealthy
  • He is reaching out to the public to measure how trustworthy Facebook is

“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today … If we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them”

– Mark Zuckerberg

The CEO and co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has announced that he is changing the algorithms behind Facebook’s News Feed in a bid to encourage more “meaningful social interactions” with friends and family on social media.

In a recent Facebook post, Zuckerberg pledged to transition the social media platform away from the passive consumption of videos and articles by prioritising posts from friends and family over those from publishers and brands. This change is a direct response to research which finds that using social media to connect with those we care about can lead to long term measures of happiness and health, whilst passively reading articles or watching videos is more likely to do the opposite. Zuckerberg also announced in a follow-up post that he is reaching out to the public to measure how trustworthy Facebook is, asking users via surveys if they are familiar with a news source that appears on their News Feed and whether they trust it. Currently, news makes up 5% of Facebook’s News Feed and this should reduce to 4% following the update; but it is the proposed shift in the balance of news that is of significance here.

In 2016, Zuckerberg revealed that users spend an average of 50 minutes a day across Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram and is now stressing the importance of “high quality news”; with Facebook product manager Samidh Chakrabarti having acknowledged the accusation that Facebook’s News Feed creates echo chambers with people only seeing the viewpoints they agree with. To help solve the issue of echo chambers, Chakrabarti revealed that Facebook is now enrolling third-party fact checkers and hiring over 10,000 more people to work on safety and security. 2018 will also see the introduction of a “related articles” feature to Facebook that will show users alternative articles to the news stories they typically read.

Due to the rise in “fake news”, Facebook, as the world’s largest social media network, has often been criticised for reinforcing political polarisation and allowing fake news stories to proliferate users’ News Feeds. Chakrabarti referred to the fact that Russia used Facebook as an “information” weapon during the 2016 US Presidential election to “awage a cyberwar intended to divide society”, acknowledging that Russian interference succeeded through promoting inauthentic news pages. Such moves towards ensuring a healthier balance of news stories which feature on the News Feed can be seen as an attempt by Zuckerberg to ‘fix’ such issues with Facebook then. Zuckerberg is not alone in publicly recognising the societal impact of social media; the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, has advocated limiting the use of technology in schools, as well as stating that he doesn’t want his nephew to use social media. The question of how and if to regulate social media platforms is becoming a pressing one, with Prime Minister Theresa May having put pressure on internet companies to remove extremist content within two hours to prevent its distribution.

However, some believe that changing Facebook is not just as easy as altering algorithms but instead involves a major cultural shift away from giving people more of what they want to see. Many have argued that Facebook needs to discard its ad-based business model to truly effect positive change, with Facebook receiving a huge slice of its revenue from advertising. In 2017, Facebook and Google claimed about 80% of every online-ad dollar in the USA. News publishers could also potentially be harmed by the goal to reduce the amount of posts from media outlets, since 80% of their traffic is reportedly referred from Facebook and Google.

While social media firms may be accused of creating filter bubbles, where users effectively see what they want to see, perhaps relying on receiving your daily dose of news from religiously watching the same television channel isn’t any better. Social media platforms enable instant access to a range of international news sources. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg’s pledge to ‘fix’ Facebook is a commendable effort. Whether other media firms follow suit and 2018 brings a new age of social media however remains to be seen.

To gain access to expert insight on the future of social media from industry leaders, you can purchase your ticket for Warwick Congress 2018 here. Our key topic of ‘Social Media, the Making of New Politics’ will be addressed through the overarching theme of Innovation.

 

Written by Amy Preston. Edited by Natasha Rega-Jones and Keval Dattani.

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