Amid a 4% stock price drop, Facebook execs Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Mosseri broke a corporate culture of epic silence with statements last week regarding changes to the newsfeed algorithm.

The changes are causing some to say that it will hurt business, while others are crying of censorship.

Nearby giants Google and Twitter are facing lawsuits and backlash under scathing reports of censorship, trading of private information and discrimination.  Is Facebook next?

While no public lawsuits have surfaced, there is evidence and talk by Facebook users claiming foul play.

So is it any wonder that they chose last week to come out and make public postings about changes happening to their sorting algorithm?

Their new philosophy:

ZUCK: I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.

ADAM MOSSERI (Facebook exec in charge of newsfeed): We’re trying to look at how we might help—or use ranking to help people become closer together, connect people more.

What we’re going to try and do is better identify and value meaningful social interactions between people.

We’re going to focus less on how much time people spend on Facebook and on newsfeed, and less on even how much they share directly.

There will be more “friend content”, more “family content” and more “group content”.

There will be less content from professional pages.

It’s really about creating more good—helping newsfeed become a place where there’s a vibrant, healthy amount of interaction and discussion. It’s less about reducing any sort of problematic content types, which is another area of work that we focus on intently.

Is Subjectivity the New Norm?

 

Their words sound more like a change in philosophy than a change in algorithm.  While there are references made to preferring comments over likes and trying to move away from video, there doesn’t seem to be anything definite.

Adam Mosseri mentioned the word “meaningful” at least five times in his interview with Wired Magazine.

The widely accepted interpretation of this is that longer comments will be more valued than passive likes or shares.

The word “algorithm” might be a misnomer.  Facebook currently has over 4000 employees who are actively sorting through newsfeeds ranking content and assigning content to particular interest groups. What combination of keywords and opinions and orders from above they use to make these judgements is anybody’s guess.

Even in the midst of Mosseri’s description of the desire to do more good, there’s an admission that suppressing “problematic content” is something they focus on intently.  Are they going to stop doing this?

 

Why are They Sorting?

 

The current staff of sorters were hired in 2017 to counteract what facebook called “hate Speech”. Facebook deletion of content began years earlier when the growth of the network found itself to become a predominant intermediary between law enforcement and the public.

Facebook execs have always been curiously silent about the motive behind their control of newsfeed stories.

 

Why Don’t they Stop?

 

Facebook’s annoying manipulation of the newsfeed is one of the reasons other social networks gained a competitive advantage over the last five to ten years.  People genuinely don’t like having their friends’ posts sorted for them.

Why don’t we as users have control over what we see?  why can’t we curate our friends into lists and why can’t we be the ultimate authority on what we find offensive and “meaningful” ?

While Facebook does provide some levels of control to the user over content curation that has never been their strong suit.  Maybe they are learning their lesson.

 

The First Amendment Matters

 

Many say that social media companies have the right to control what information gets shared on their platform. That may not be true, however, because social media has eclipsed other technologies as a primary source of news and safety information.

Freedom of the press is protected by the first amendment. If media platforms have a detrimental effect on the ability of news organizations to freely distribute their views,  they could be standing in the face of the first amendment.

 

The Free Market Matters

 

Even if stock prices don’t take a hit, users won’t stick around on a platform if their income streams and viewership keeps being manipulated.

Eventually, competition will enter the marketplace and businesses will find a place where they can grow networks without control.

 

Keep it Meaningful

 

Perhaps Facebook has seen the writing on the wall about what censorship and control is doing to networks.  It could be that Facebook execs understand “meaningfulness” as a path through the storm. Social networks will be under such intense litigation and scrutiny that only the best content will survive. Reputation will be everything.

Pressure from advertisers as well as participation from users will not be without its effect. As they assuredly are reading what you post, make it count and you may just make a better social network from it. If they are serious about being more “meaningful” then take them to task on it.

Write better content, know your audience and attract the best contributors.

If they continue to hurt your access to readers, then take them to task and move to other networks.  We will end up with a better Internet as a result.

 

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