Facebook announces sweeping changes to its News Feed

Facebook has announced it is changing the way it filters post and video content on users’ news feeds, with a greater focus being placed on “posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people”.

In a news post, Facebook’s head of news feed Adam Mosseri said the platform would be deprioritising the amount of non-advertising content from publishers and brands in favour of posts that “inspire back-and-forth discussion”.

He also said that post from friends and family would take greater prominence on the news feed than they currently are.

Some recent trials saw all content from liked ‘Pages’ moved to a new tab called the Explore Tab. But the new format will see page posts still appear in the News Feed, although there may be fewer of them.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the changes would be the start of a series of alterations to the design of the world’s largest social network.

Facebook, which owns four of the world’s most popular smartphone apps including Instagram, has for years prioritised material that its complex computer algorithms think people will engage with through comments, ‘likes’ or other ways of showing interest.

Zuckerberg, the company’s 33-year-old co-founder, said that would no longer be the goal.

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” Zuckerberg wrote.

The shift was likely to mean that the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement would go down in the short term, he wrote, but he added it would be better for users and for the business over the long term.

Advertising on the social network would be unaffected by the changes, John Hegeman, a Facebook vice-president, said in an interview.

Facebook and its social media competitors have been inundated by criticism that their products reinforce users’ views on social and political issues and lead to addictive viewing habits, raising questions about possible regulation and the businesses’ long-term viability.

The company has been criticised for algorithms that may have prioritised misleading news and misinformation in people’s feeds, influencing the 2016 American presidential election, as well as political discourse in many countries.

Last year, Facebook disclosed that Russian agents had used the network to spread inflammatory posts to polarise the American electorate.

Congress is expected to hold more hearings this month, questioning the role social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube play in spreading propaganda.

Zuckerberg said an overhaul of the company’s products, beginning with changes to the algorithms that control the News Feed, would help to address those concerns. Similar changes will be made to other products in the coming months, he said.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being,” Zuckerberg wrote.

With more than 2 billion monthly users, Facebook is the world’s largest social media network. It is also among the world’s largest corporations, reporting $36bn in revenue, mostly from advertising, during the 12 months that ended on 30 September.

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