SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook Inc will change the way it does business to emphasise "meaningful social interactions" rather than the type of News Feed scrolling that critics say is addictive, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday (Feb 11).
Zuckerberg said in a post on Facebook that the changes would be "major" and lead to a short-term drop in the time spent on the network, but that it would be better for users and for the business over the long term.
"We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us," he said in a Facebook post.
"That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.
"But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content - posts from businesses, brands and media - is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other."
Zuckerberg pointed to the fact 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," he said.
"We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being. So we've studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities."
Zuckerberg added that research showed that using social media to connect with people we care about can be good for our well-being.
"We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health," he said.
"On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos - even if they're entertaining or informative - may not be as good.
The Facebook chief said the changes are likely to mean that the time people spend on the social media site will fall, adding "but I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable".
He added: "And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too."
"This is a big change," said News Feed product manager John Hegeman.
"People will actually spend less time on Facebook, but we feel good about that because it will make the time they do spend more valuable, and be good for our business in the end."
For example, a family video clip posted by a spouse will be deemed more worthy of attention than a snippet from a star or favourite restaurant.
"We think people interaction is more important than passively consuming content," Hegeman said.
"This will be one of the more important updates that we have made."
Google, Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for allowing the spread of bogus news - some of which was directed by Russia - ahead of the 2016 US election and in other countries.
Facebook has introduced a series of changes intended to address the problem.
"We are doing a ton of work to reduce the frequency of bad content on Facebook," Hegeman said.
"This update is more about amplifying the things people value."
He cited academic research indicating that interacting with loved ones is crucial to a person's wellbeing, while reading news articles or watching shared videos may not be.
"There is really no silver bullet here to determine what is most meaningful, but we are trying to mine the signals to get the best representation that we can," Hegeman said.
Known for setting annual personal goals ranging from killing his own food to learning Mandarin, Zuckerberg's stated mission for this year is to "fix" the social network, including by targeting abuse and hate, and making sure visiting Facebook is time well spent.
"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," Zuckerberg said Thursday.