Facebook, the battle against ‘fake news’ and getting back to its roots

You must have noticed – 2018 has gone off with a bang in the world of social media.

Facebook has made some of the most game-changing updates for a long while. Firstly, they’ve vowed to be a force for good in suppressing fake news.  Secondly, they have announced a return to their roots – they want their focus to be on interactions between individuals rather than simply being a conduit for content from publishers (defined as businesses, blogs, publications and people like celebrities, politicians – and some who blur those lines *cough* Trump).

These changes will have an impact on businesses as well as on us as individuals, so here’s what you need to know.

A shift back to “meaningful connections”

Facebook, like Google, uses an algorithm to rank posts and content (or search results in Google’s case) according to what it thinks you’ll be most interested in or likely to interact with.  This means that what is in your news feed is in a particular order based on what you’ve liked, commented on, shared, watched and posted about yourself.  The rank Facebook gives a post is also based on other factors such as the popularity of a publisher amongst your friends.  Some of these rules will remain in the future, but the real difference now is in how Facebook prioritises posts from those in your network.

Facebook have found that a newsfeed full of posts from people you care about has a positive influence on the way we feel,  whereas a constant stream of content, which may be factual or even entertaining, doesn’t make us feel as good.

This Time Magazine article (which I found on LinkedIn not Facebook!) reports that over the last quarter, 50 million fewer hours have been spent on Facebook.  This sounds disastrous, but it’s what Mr Zuckerberg et al want.  They wish to “make sure people’s time is well spent” rather than spending more time passively consuming content.

All this sounds great for individuals but what does it mean for businesses and advertisers?  It has long been suggested that Facebook has been falling behind in terms of its marketing effectiveness.  Other platforms such as Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat have captured a younger generation – who have seemingly been turned off from Facebook.  This recent change could end up turning marketers away from using the platform and rethink social media strategies.

Alternatively time may tell that this approach is not all that drastic and all that advertisers need to do is make a few tactical changes. The Hootsuite article features some suggestions as to how brands should react to these changes.  Advice includes posting content that generates conversation between users and also creating more live videos as another method of meaningful interaction.

Finally, if you’re spending money promoting your posts you may need to re-target to make your money go further.  With users spending less time on Facebook, you may find reach decreases – so it’s important to maximise the reach you actually get.

Facebook Vs. Fake News

It is not understating things to say that fake news is one of the biggest problems in the developed world.  Social media platforms, including Facebook, have been heavily criticised for not doing enough to combat this phenomenon as this Guardian article explains.

In fairness, Facebook has put some effort into combatting fake news, first by implementing a flagging system and more recently by introducing a ‘related articles’ function.  This allows users to view other related content from alternative sources to determine if what they read previously was trustworthy or not.

There’s also an argument that whatever Facebook does, it won’t solve the problem. This interesting read from Mercator Net suggests that the underlying societal problems need to be fixed and that anything the social media networks do, will simply be a sticking plaster.  The article also references the US election and how fake news could have swung the result.  Interesting and scary in equal measure.

In conclusion, Facebook seem to be between a rock and a hard place.  They seemingly want to do the right thing and are willing to take a hit on traffic and the stock market to do so.  The impact of these changes may, in reality, be nothing compared to the impact on society as a whole.

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