A couple of weeks ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will change their focus and algorithms. According to a Facebook post, Zuckerberg has tasked his employees to care less about “helping you find relevant content,” and more about “helping you have more meaningful social interactions.” Consequently, your news feed will soon show you less global content and more local content, less CNN and Nike and more from your friends and family. Zuckerberg understands this change as an overdue revival of sorts; a return to what Facebook originally purported to do. He wrote in his post, “We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience.”
Dear reader, you won’t hear me complaining about that statement. I am a fan of Zuckerberg’s attempt at facilitating meaningful relationships. It seems to me that he is trying clarify one simple question: What is Facebook really for?
The answer to this question a year ago would not have been as principled as it is now. Despite the warnings of every living sociologist and psychologist, I use my news feed for news, and maybe not surprisingly, it is drunk with information. As I scroll, the story my feed tells me is untraceable, incoherent and dizzying. I go from Trump to the Grammy’s, from Putin to Lebron James and from something about culture to a video of a baby sloth. And I do so all within a few scrolls.
I suppose that is what Zuckerberg wants to change. He wants our feeds to be of people we know, not world news or advertisements. He has made it clear that Facebook is more than a commodity or a profit-hungry business. I find this to be admirable, but also naive. Facebook is something we consume, like Coca-Cola or Pollo Tropical, or any other commodity on the market; it is a profit-hungry business because, at its core, it is a business — a very large one at that. I’m not sure if our news feeds will ever be wholly social spaces. At some level, Facebook will always be a business trying to sell a product, and thus it will follow the profits. It will create spaces for meaningful social interaction as long as it is making money, and we need to remember that.
We would also do well, however, to reflect on what caused Zuckerberg’s change of mind and heart. The Facebook of the 2016 presidential election was the Wild West of social media. It’s where “fake news” was given taxonomy. It is well known that Zuckerberg felt culpable for Trump’s election and for allowing Facebook to become overgrown with senseless amounts of information — too much to understand. If we are going to remain human amidst change and upheaval, then we must keep our focus on people. Zuckerberg was not the only one who lost sight of this. Nevertheless, I doubt a change in algorithm will have much effect. People are already assuring businesses that they can adjust to Facebook’s changes and find new ways of smuggling their product or service into our feeds. People like me have grown habituated to getting news from our feed and our social interaction from elsewhere.
As I said earlier, Facebook is a business. The changes they are making are noble, but from a business perspective, I think they make Facebook obsolete. Facebook is trying to be more social, but that struck gold a decade ago. That is why I don’t think an algorithm change will impact much of anything, and consequently will not change Facebook that much either. I admire your ideals Zuckerberg, but sadly that won’t keep your business alive and well.
Scott Stinson is a UF English junior. His column focuses on popular culture.