SAN FRANCISCO — When Facebook's two billion users scroll through their news feeds in the coming weeks, they can expect to see more content from their friends and family, and less from businesses, brands and media, the company announced Thursday.
The ultimate goal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post, is to make people feel more positive about the time they spend on social media. The content Facebook shows "should encourage meaningful interactions between people," he said.
"The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being," Zuckerberg wrote. "We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they're entertaining or informative — may not be as good."
The announcement comes one week after Zuckerberg, who famously declares a News Year's resolution on Facebook each year, announced his goal this year will be to "fix" Facebook. This includes dealing with abuse on the platform, such as Russian meddling in elections and ensuring users feel like logging onto Facebook is "time well spent."
Facebook has denied it is a media company, but in recent years, brands, media companies and other content creators have turned to Facebook for its unparalleled reach and engagement. It's a point Zuckerberg acknowledged in his post, writing that "video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years."
"Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other," Zuckerberg said.
"By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it's with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent."
The news feed shake-up will also usher in a shift in thinking for Facebook's product teams. They were previously given the mandate to help users find relevant content. Now, Zuckerberg said, they'll be tasked with helping deliver more meaningful social interactions for Facebook users.
Facebook's algorithm — think of that as a complex digital recipe for deciding what shows in each person's news feed — will now prioritize posts from friends and family that "spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people."
What's unclear is whether the changes could perpetuate an echo chamber effect, assuming users are more likely to interact with posts that reinforce their beliefs.
The changes are also a blow to brands and media companies that publish on Facebook. Adam Mosseri, Facebook's head of news feed, said these public pages can expect to see their reach, video watch times and referral traffic decrease.
"Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect," he wrote in a blog post.
With people no longer having as much content to passively consume in their news feeds, Zuckerberg said he expects some measures of user engagement will decrease. That's news shareholders may not want to hear, but Zuckerberg said he believes the changes will be mutually beneficial in the long run for Facebook's users and its bottom line.
"By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it's with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent," he said.