Wait, I thought Facebook was a business

It’s no secret we aren’t Facebook fans around here. After seeing the writing on the wall three years ago, we walked away (and didn’t miss them). Meanwhile, fake news happened, Russia happened, and so many people started to find Facebook more aggravating than enjoyable.

Yet looking at recent comments from CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the redirection of his company, well… it reminds me of Jerry McGuire. Remember Jerry McGuire?

It’s been widely reported that Facebook is making some radical changes to its News Feed algorithm. We’ve been looking at it from a publisher’s POV, trying to come to grips with how another algorithm change will drive even less referral traffic and engagement for media brands, and possibly position FB to make more money off its paid placement.

Yet something else may be going on here. 

According to Mike Isaac in The New York Times, the changes this time around “are intended to maximize the amount of content with ‘meaningful interaction’ that people consume on Facebook,” as Zuckerberg said.

“We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Zuckerberg said in an interview. “We need to refocus the system.”

As a businessman, Zuckerberg has been absolutely brilliant about maximizing profits. And we’ve no quibble with companies earning an honest buck. Yet he seemed to turn a decidedly blind eye to the problems he was creating. Now, that may be changing, if his recent comments can be believed.

It’s been a brutal time for Facebook. They were called to testify before Congress over fake news and Russian-backed ads, while key former executives have come out publicly against “feeding the beast,” openly acknowledging that the company sought to control users.

Has Zuckerberg had a change of heart?

“Last week,” Isaac writes, “he posted on Facebook about his goals for 2018, including ‘making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent’ and adding that ‘this will be a serious year of self-improvement and I’m looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together.’”

They’ve realized, it would seem, and accepted responsibility for the power of the tool they’ve created. And he’s pledging to “fix our issues together.”

Part of fixing it, they believe, is to cut down on so-called “passive content” and shift back to friends and family connections – hence the News Feed changes.

“Product managers are being asked to ‘facilitate the most meaningful interactions between people,’ rather than the previous mandate of helping people find the most meaningful content,” Isaac notes.

Facilitating interaction instead of finding? Quality over quantity? Active over passive? What gives? Is the master social manipulator growing up into a responsible corporate citizen?

I suppose it’s possible. He’s stated that his views about Facebook and its purpose have shifted since the birth of his two kids. And he’s talking more about a real legacy, saying it’s important to him that his kids believe what their dad build “was good for the world.”

Sometimes things have to blow up to be put back together in a better way. Maybe that’s really happening here. But how will it impact the business model for a majority of publishers? It doesn’t sound positive.