Facebook will soon show you more baby photos and fewer news articles

 cnet.com  1/12/2018 6:08:58 PM  5  Richard Nieva
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a new vision for your news feed.

James Martin/CNET

Your Facebook feed will soon start to look a little different.

But this isn't just about you. It's also about the power and influence of the world's dominant social network.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that Facebook is overhauling the news feed to prioritize posts from family and friends, as opposed to those from brands and publishers.

That means its 2 billion users will see fewer news articles, viral videos and other media content. Instead, they'll see more baby pictures and status updates from aunts, childhood friends and co-workers. The change is the biggest tweak the social network has made to the news feed -- essentially the soul of Facebook -- in years.

The idea is to let you have more "meaningful interactions" and to try to make sure you don't suffer from the time you spend on Facebook. Last month, the company released a report on how people consume content on Facebook and on the consequences of that behavior. Passively scrolling and reading things, it found, can have negative effects, while being more interactive -- "liking" posts and writing comments -- can be positive.

"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 on his Facebook page. "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."

Facebook has been under intense scrutiny as it grapples with its scale and influence. Its almighty algorithms have the power to decide what people see online, and the thinking is that can have an effect on how they view the world. The company, along with Twitter and Google, has been in the hot seat with lawmakers for the role its platform played in the 2016 election. Russian trolls abused the service to try to sway the results and sow discord among Americans.

Earlier this month, Zuckerberg said his latest annual challenge is to "fix" some of the problems that have spread on Facebook, like hate and abuse. He teased the upcoming change by saying one of the goals is "making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent."

'If we do the right thing...'

On Thursday, he also acknowledged that, in the short term, the company's business could take a hit as a result of the change. Publishers, businesses and other brands rely on Facebook's new feed for distribution.

"By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down," he wrote. "But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable."

That acknowledgement of the potential hardship on the business side rattled investors. On Friday morning, Facebook shares were down more than 4 percent.

But those worries may be overblown, according to one Wall Street firm. In a note to investors Friday, Evercore ISI offered a reassuring perspective.

"Facebook appears to be trading engagement for a higher-quality user experience," Evercore's analysts wrote. "Ultimately, we see the announced change as a likely long-term positive [that] comes at a time when Facebook is making strategic decisions from a position of strength."

Clearly, Facebook felt this was an important move to make, even with the disruption.

"If we do the right thing," Zuckerberg wrote, "I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too."

Originally published Jan. 11 at 4:49 a.m. PT.
Updated Jan. 12 at 7:56 a.m. PT: Added Wall Street reaction.

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