Facebook Will Show You Fewer Posts From Brands and Publishers, and More Baby Photos

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Mark Zuckerberg says changes to the News Feed could affect publishers.
Mark Zuckerberg says changes to the News Feed could affect publishers. Credit: istock

Mark Zuckerberg is upending the News Feed, what people see on Facebook every day, in a way that will boost posts from friends, while downplaying messages from brands and media companies, even video posts.

The Facebook CEO announced the changes on the social network on Thursday evening, and it sounded like a warning for publishers and media partners that rely on the platform to reach audiences.

"We've gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other," Zuckerberg says in the Facebook post.

The company has been signaling its shifting priorities for years, downgrading the presence of low-quality posts and clickbait headlines, while encouraging more engagement from everyday users. In 2016, fake news infiltrated Facebook, and posts from foreign actors were blamed for impacting the presidential election.

"I don't think they're shutting all publishers down, but it sounds like this will take many by surprise," says one publishing executive who works closely with Facebook and who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They've been really cloak and dagger about this update."

Meanwhile, media companies have been relying more than ever on Facebook to reach audiences and drive traffic to their websites. Many publishers shifted their digital strategies to stay in good favor with Facebook's algorithm, moving into live video when Facebook said it wanted more of that content and experimenting with Instant Articles when those fast-loading articles were introduced as a salve for slow webpages outside the social network.

Now, it seems those publishers are almost as out of luck as the phony publishers Facebook has tried to scrub from the News Feed.

Some publishers say they were out of the loop on the changes that Facebook is making, despite the social network's efforts over the past year to build stronger ties with industry. Last year, it created the Facebook Journalism Project to meet with media companies about how to best use the social network and find ways for them to make money for their efforts.

"This definitely gives you a sense of where you stand in the 'circle,'" says another publishing executive, who was part of the Journalism Project but was not apprised of the latest major changes.

For its part, Facebook has been seeing fewer everyday users creating posts for friends and family, while more brands and media companies were populating the service. Meanwhile, rivals like Snapchat were growing stronger, with users shooting videos and sending messages to friends obsessively.

On Facebook, users have developed a penchant for zombie-like scrolling, quick to scan posts and then move on to the next one in milliseconds, and the update is meant to slow that scroll.

Facebook wants to help users improve their sense of well-being, Zuckerberg says.

"The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being," Zuckerberg says. "We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos—even if they're entertaining or informative--may not be as good."

Facebook says it will still show content from media pages, but it will prioritize the types of posts that spark conversations among friends. For instance, Oprah Winfrey giving a speech at the Golden Globes is likely to still spread like wildfire, but posts that don't elicit many comments will likely be buried.

The change does not directly impact Watch, the video hub Facebook created to compete with YouTube. Facebook has worked with a number of media companies on creating shows for Watch, and is trying to sell advertisers on buying commericals there. In recent weeks, Facebook has made changes to that program as well, and it also is prioritizing video shows that encourage community engagement and generate positive participation among loyal audiences.

The changes come on the heels of Zuckerberg's New Year post in which he promised to work to improve the social network and fix many of its nagging problems.

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