The com­pa­ny said it’s try­ing to pre­vent posts from ‘busi­ness­es, brands and media’ from crowd­ing out ‘the per­son­al moments that lead us to con­nect more with each oth­er.’

Face­book has had a tough year. Despite the fact that rev­enues are soar­ing, engage­ment has declined, and there’s less per­son­al con­tent shar­ing on the site. In addi­tion, the soci­etal dis­cus­sion around Face­book has turned sharply neg­a­tive since the elec­tion of 2016.

Ear­li­er this month, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg said his goal for 2018 was to “fix” the prod­uct:

Today feels a lot like that first year. The world feels anx­ious and divid­ed, and Face­book has a lot of work to do — whether it’s pro­tect­ing our com­mu­ni­ty from abuse and hate, defend­ing against inter­fer­ence by nation states, or mak­ing sure that time spent on Face­book is time well spent.

My per­son­al chal­lenge for 2018 is to focus on fix­ing these impor­tant issues. We won’t pre­vent all mis­takes or abuse, but we cur­rent­ly make too many errors enforc­ing our poli­cies and pre­vent­ing mis­use of our tools. If we’re suc­cess­ful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much bet­ter tra­jec­to­ry.

The twin goals of increas­ing user engage­ment and fend­ing off “fake news” and for­eign manip­u­la­tion prompt­ed the com­pa­ny to announce a major change last night. Face­book is going to pri­or­i­tize con­tent from friends and fam­i­ly and de-empha­size con­tent from brands, busi­ness­es and media pub­lish­ers (so-called “pub­lic con­tent”):

As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and refer­ral traf­fic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, dri­ven by fac­tors includ­ing the type of con­tent they pro­duce and how peo­ple inter­act with it. 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.

One ques­tion being raised in the wake of these changes is whether they will increase the “echo cham­ber” effect that has been decried by many crit­ics. In oth­er words, will peo­ple sim­ply see posts and con­tent that rein­force their exist­ing ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tions and beliefs? That may be inher­ent in the nature of Face­book itself, how­ev­er.

Zucker­berg said in his blog post that he antic­i­pates “some mea­sures of engage­ment will go down” for brands, media pub­lish­ers and small busi­ness­es. While some have spec­u­lat­ed that Facebook’s busi­ness inter­ests may be harmed by the move, it will prob­a­bly dri­ve more adver­tis­ing to reach audi­ences.

In a “News Feed FYI,” Facebook’s Adam Mosseri rec­om­mend­ed sev­er­al things to brands and busi­ness­es:

Page posts that gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion between peo­ple will show high­er in News Feed. For exam­ple, live videos often lead to dis­cus­sion among view­ers on Face­book — in fact, live videos on aver­age get six times as many inter­ac­tions as reg­u­lar videos. Many cre­ators who post videos on Face­book prompt dis­cus­sion among their fol­low­ers, as do posts from celebri­ties. In Groups, peo­ple often inter­act around pub­lic con­tent. Local busi­ness­es con­nect with their com­mu­ni­ties by post­ing rel­e­vant updates and cre­at­ing events. And news can help start con­ver­sa­tions on impor­tant issues.

Using engage­ment-bait to goad peo­ple into com­ment­ing on posts is not a mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tion, and we will con­tin­ue to demote these posts in News Feed.

In oth­er words, the advice to pub­lish­ers and brands is:

  • Cre­ate more longer-form video.
  • Spend more time pro­duc­ing gen­uine­ly rel­e­vant and engag­ing con­tent.
  • Don’t try to trick peo­ple into engag­ing with con­tent.

The mar­ket sees the change as neg­a­tive (per­haps tem­porar­i­ly), and right now Facebook’s shares are down in pre-mar­ket trad­ing.

After ini­tial­ly dis­miss­ing Face­book’s role in the “fake news” and Russ­ian influ­ence con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the 2016 elec­tion, Zucker­berg has become increas­ing­ly dis­turbed that the com­pa­ny he built is doing more harm than good. He and his team are try­ing to cor­rect that and restore Facebook’s rep­u­ta­tion and its val­ue to users, which has con­tin­ued to decline, even as the company’s busi­ness has grown dra­mat­i­cal­ly.