Feed me, Facebook

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Changes are coming to your Facebook news feed.

On Thursday, January 11, Facebook announced it will begin to prioritize content from friends and family over content from publishers and brands. This means, in theory, you’ll see more selfies of Aunt Brenda and fewer ads trying to sell you your last search on Amazon.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, said in the announcement that while social media “can be good for our well-being” when used to connect with friends and family, “passively reading articles or watching videos” can be detrimental.

The changes to Facebook’s news feed are interesting for two reasons. First, Facebook is attempting to lessen its role as news provider and advertiser in the face of mounting criticism. Last year, it was discovered Facebook allowed Russian operatives to spend $100,000 USD on divisive political ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “Fake news,” as we know it today, wouldn’t exist without Facebook’s ability to proliferate it to two billion active users.

Second, Facebook is acknowledging that it has a responsibility to its users’ well-being. “Passively reading articles or watching videos,” as Zuckerberg puts it, could be described as my pastime. Whether I’m shopping for groceries or in a public restroom, I’m constantly scrolling my news feed. I’ve developed an unstoppable urge to thumb the shiny blue “F” icon whenever I have a split second of boredom. Zuckerberg said the updated news feed will likely result in people spending less time on Facebook, and I hope I’m one of those people.

A day after Facebook’s announcement, its stock fell 4.5 percent. In turn, Zuckerberg lost 3.3 billion USD from his net worth. So why is Facebook tinkering with its news feed if it means losing money? Well, despite all the fluffy and warm language in Facebook’s announcement (and the positive potential for the updated news feed to reduce time spent on the platform), it’s still a calculated chess move from one of the largest corporations on earth. Short-term, Zuckerberg’s wallet might take a hit. But long-term, Facebook is likely hoping the changes will earn back some of the public’s trust so it can continue its social media dominance.