Facebook moves slow and fixes things

Revue
 
A day after Facebook announced major changes to the News Feed, I found myself thinking about Mark Zuc
 

The Interface

January 12 · Issue #62 · View online
An evening newsletter about Facebook, social networks, and democracy.

A day after Facebook announced major changes to the News Feed, I found myself thinking about Mark Zuckerberg. In the past few months, he watched as a series of high-ranking former executives sought to distance themselves from the thing they made together. 
The thing I didn’t expect is that he would, too.
After tackling a series of more whimsical challenges in previous years, Zuckerberg announced that his personal goal for 2018 would be to fix the company. He told the New York Times he is determined to make sure his daughters think Facebook “was good for the world.” His statement represented an acknowledgement, however oblique, that the opposite might be true. 
In extraordinary times, it was a surprising admission.
Facebook is a company that has always been defined by ruthless ambition. And so it is remarkable to see its founder, in this moment, betting on a kind of retrenchment: to a News Feed populated by fewer links and videos, and more conversations.
Viewed a certain way, the changes announced Thursday look like a fervent wish to return to 2010. Reading the company’s blog posts, you can feel executives longing for a time when when Facebook felt smaller, and less consequential. Back when Facebook felt like a fun way to pass a few minutes in line at the grocery store, rather than the fulcrum of American democracy.
But Facebook now serves as the interface for the most fundamental pillars of our society. (And yes, aside from the pun on Facebook, that’s why I named this newsletter the Interface.) It was just in November that Zuckerberg laid out a plan for the company that places it at the center of political conversation. “We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere,” he wrote. That’s no small ambition.
The company has also partnered with fact-checking organizations, working to prevent hoaxes from spreading. It’s forcing advertisers to disclose the content of their advertising publicly. In many ways the company is seeking to play a greater role in public affairs than ever before.
And so what to make of the company’s announcement that it plans, in the coming year, to get smaller? To have us spend less time on the site, and read fewer articles, and consume fewer ads?
Will that create the Facebook that Zuckerberg wants, or that we want?
Even if Facebook succeeds at phasing the news media out of the News Feed, it’s not clear that would make Facebook a happier place. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has no news feed, and yet hoaxes and propaganda still run rampant. The company will face continued pressure to address misinformation across all of its platforms. Detaching conversations from article links won’t necessarily make them more accurate, productive, or even more “meaningful.” It may well make them worse.
Ultimately, none of this could matter to Facebook’s business. The benefit of being in an advertising duopoly with Google is that it will likely continue to print money even if the time users spend on the site declines significantly. At least for a while.
Still, it’s notable that a company that has done nothing but grow now finds itself tapping the brakes. The decade-long project to expand around the world has brought about many consequences with no easy solutions. For maybe the first time in its existence, Facebook now sees the value of moving slowly.

Democracy
Facebook to Overhaul How It Presents News in Feed
Facebook news feed: The giant social network is making a big change
Facebook announces News Feed changes: Shares fall
Facebook says it will send less traffic to publishers — but that’s already been happening
How The Alt Right — And Paul Ryan's Challenger — Coordinate To Fight The "Jewish Media"
South Africa: Fake News, Financial Impact
Extremist content is on Facebook and Google ahead of Senate hearing
Elsewhere
Twitter Jumps As Facebook Flops Over Shift In Content Strategy
Exclusive Networks Of Teens Are Making Thousands Of Dollars By Selling Retweets
Facebook’s Oculus boss thinks standalone headsets are the key to getting a billion people into VR
Facebook Harmonized With Global Music Rights, HFA/Rumblefish, Kobalt Music Publishing
The most engaged sites on Facebook in December 2017
Snapchat’s big redesign bashed in 83% of user reviews
Takes
Facebook shouldn't show any news at all
Mark Zuckerberg Just Blew Up Facebook From the Inside
Facebook Finally Blinks
Facebook Is Deprioritizing Our Stories. Good.
The Difficulties With Facebook’s News Feed Overhaul
If Facebook stops putting news in front of readers, will readers bother to go looking for it?
Social Media Is Making Us Dumber. Here’s Exhibit A.
Deadspin Interview: Ta-Nehisi Coates
And finally ...
YouTube and Reddit’s new music obsession is Star Wars music played with a pencil
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Plans for the Facebook apocalypse? casey@theverge.com 
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Carefully curated by Casey Newton with Revue.
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