A little more than a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg announced he was changing Facebook’s news feed algorithms to show fewer posts from businesses, brands, and media in favor of posts that “encourage meaningful interactions between people.” Here’s what Zuck wrote then:
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. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos–even if they’re entertaining or informative–may not be as good.
Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. 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.
We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.
As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard–it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.
It looks like that “meaningful interaction” change has been a complete failure, according to a report from social media tracking company NewsWhip (via NiemanLab). Instead of the news feed changes encouraging “meaningful interactions between people,” Facebook users have only become more angry, outraged, reactive, and fearful since Zuckerberg announced the changes.
Now the most commented and shared stories are usually about abortion (a divisive issue), missing kids (fear-based stories), and Momo (a hoax). And instead of spurring us to engage in important discussions with each other, NewsWhip’s report shows that engagement on political stories shared on Facebook is driven by outrage and anger. Matter of fact, NewsWhip’s reports show that “angry” is the top reaction when it comes to political content on Facebook.
That’s not to say Zuckerberg’s news feed algorithm change is a failure for Facebook. Quite the contrary, it’s a roaring success with engagement up 50% in the first few months of 2019 over its 2018 numbers. But what’s good for Facebook is usually bad for society. If increased engagement from the world’s largest social media site is being driven by increased rage, anger, and fear, what kind of harm will that inflict on society? What kind of strife will that cause between one person and another? After last week, I don’t think I want to know the answer.