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Why Facebook wants you to spend less time on Facebook

Publishers and brands get kicked to the curb

by Noah Kulwin
Jan 12 2018, 4:59pm

On Thursday night, Facebook dropped a bombshell: The company is set to roll out a series of changes to the News Feed algorithm that will prioritize posts from your friends and bury stuff from publishers and brands.

The upshot of this is that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook believe that while it might decrease the amount of time people spend on Facebook, and certainly short-term revenue, it will be better for Facebook and its users in the long run.

Why would Facebook want people to use Facebook less?

The only thing that scares Facebook executives more than people using a social app that isn’t owned by Facebook (like Snapchat) is people having a bad time on Facebook. And over the past few years, Facebook has scared people with its ability to seemingly manipulate our emotions, and there’s a growing body of research — including from Facebook itself! — that suggests social media can make users feel bad.

OK, but how will these new changes address those problems?

According to Zuckerberg, the solution to these woes is to encourage users to spend time talking (or “engaging”) with other people on Facebook, rather than gazing at videos of animals and ads.

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

Why are they focusing on this now?

For starters, Facebook has actually been trying stuff like this since at least 2016 — they’re just hinting that what’s about to happen will be more significant than what they have done so far in this vein.

As far as battling its rivals, Facebook has pretty much surged ahead in the competition for users’ attention, in part due to the increased eyeballs it got by surfacing content from the brands and publishers it’s now punishing with less traffic.

What’s going on with the competition?

Snapchat’s user metrics are not looking that healthy, according to numbers obtained by the Daily Beast this week. And the Facebook and Google ad duopoly took in a combined 63 percent of all digital ad dollars last year, while Facebook is expected to absorb an ever-growing chunk of that money over the next few years.

Are publishers and advertisers mad about this?

Oh, they’re furious but also resigned to the fact that they don’t have much choice in the matter. One media exec told Digiday that publishers are “losing hope” in Facebook, and David Chavern, CEO of the newspaper trade association the News Media Alliance, warned in a statement that Facebook’s giant user base is “an incredible power that carries incredible responsibilities.”

What about Wall Street?

Facebook stock dropped about $18 a share, or 4 percent, on Friday morning, which makes sense given that the company is acknowledging it anticipates users to spend less time on Facebook. But because of Facebook’s stock structure, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t have to pay much attention to what Wall Street thinks.

Zuckerberg is a billionaire dozens of times over so why does he care what they think?

Touché.