Facebook's big change to your news feed shows it still doesn't know how to fix its problems

The social media platform is grappling with questions it can't seem to answer.
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The social media platform is grappling with questions it can't seem to answer.
Mark Zuckerberg ahead of the Facebook Communities Summit on June 21, 2017.

Mark Zuckerberg ahead of the Facebook Communities Summit on June 21, 2017.

The Essentials

1. Facebook's endless tweaking of your news feed continues with a big, new, behind-the-scenes update meant to help users "have more meaningful social interactions."

2. You'll start seeing more posts from friends, family and groups in your feed, founder Mark Zuckerberg explained. And that means fewer posts from brands, businesses and media outlets. Zuckerberg called it a "major change to how we build Facebook."

3. The goal will be to highlight posts that "spark conversation," Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri said. To do that, Facebook will try to "predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed."

What Else You Should Know

This change comes at an interesting moment for Facebook and Zuckerberg.

The founder, in his post about the update, insists it's about connecting real people because it's "good for our well-being." And to do that, he's instituting a shift in strategy for the people in charge of building the news feed. 

"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," he writes.

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That's a really big shift. The company, for years, has repeatedly promised to provide a better feed by serving up more relevant content.

But there's a good argument to make that they've failed in that mission.

Zuckerberg positioned his company as an important tool in political discourse by rolling out features like voter registration reminders and candidate endorsement tools, or by trying to predict what posts people might find "informative."

What users got instead was a mess of misinformation that, at best, cluttered up the feed, and at worst, enabled the spread of inaccurate news that influenced voters, and was possibly put out there by a foreign actor (Russia).

It's a problem Zuckerberg initially laughed at, calling it a "crazy idea" (though he was even warned by former President Barack Obama). He has since acknowledged political misinformation on Facebook is a real issue, and the platform has introduced updates and tweaks to combat fake news.

The changes announced Thursday might indicate Zuckerberg and Facebook – despite all their efforts – still don't know how to get a handle on it. They've certainly faced criticism of that nature.

So why not scale back on the amount of "news" shown to users, and let them focus on the people they know. Sort of like it was before Facebook stepped into the political discourse fray.

Related:

Watch: Al Franken loses his mind while quizzing Facebook lawyer about Russian ads

"Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down," Zuckerberg says. "But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too."

Whether it works as planned, only time will tell. 

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