Facebook began 2018 with an acknowledgement and a resolution. An acknowledgement that it has substantial problems — from hate and abuse to foreign government propaganda — and a resolution from founder Mark Zuckerberg to fix the platform.
Zuckerberg has now announced ‘major changes’ to the algorithms that drive Facebook’s News Feed. The updates, he says, will reduce the number of posts users see from brands and media and prioritise posts from friends and family. Instead of focussing on maximising user engagement, Facebook says it will promote content that “sparks conversations and meaningful interactions between people”.
The announcement comes after Facebook has suffered months of intense criticism — from users and governments — on hate speech, misinformation and the use of allegedly biased algorithms.
The Web Foundation welcomes this step, which should signal a major shift in the company’s approach. The test of success will be in how far the concerns about Facebook are addressed. Will prioritising content from family, friends and groups help burst the filter bubbles blamed for dividing societies and politics? Will these changes help reduce misinformation? Will users finally have real control of the information that they are served?
Facebook should support these significant changes by engaging with communities, gathering user feedback and sharing results transparently.
Web Foundation President & CEO, Adrian Lovett said:
“With over 2 billion users across the world, Facebook has a massive responsibility to build a platform that helps, not hurts, humanity. I’m glad to see Mark Zuckerberg facing some of the platform’s shortcomings head on and I encourage him and others to reach out widely, to friends and critics alike, as Facebook works to live up to its mission of bringing the world closer together. The conversation may not be easy, but it is one of the most important challenges we face right now.”
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