technology

Facebook Is Counting on User Surveys for a ‘Meaningful’ Feed

Debbie Williamson, eMarketer analyst, says Facebook needs to restore confidence in its user base.

Facebook was designed to reward popular content, giving rise to damaging side effects like fake news and potential user depression. The company says it’s going to fix that by prioritizing "meaningful interactions" instead. What does that even mean?

Facebook doesn’t know yet. It’s going to use old-school surveys to find out, the company said on an earnings call with investors.

Since 2014, Facebook Inc. has worked with a panel of thousands of users who go through their news feed and give feedback on the posts they see. The goal was to design the news feed so that information scrolled in the exact order people wanted. Now, the company will ask these users if their social interactions on the service are meaningful, instead of quizzing them on the quality of the content, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday.

He’s going to tell his product teams to design Facebook to inspire people to interact with one another. Think of the prompts users get to wish people a happy birthday, but a deeper social connection. If it works, Facebook shifts from an organizer of your social information to an instigator for your social activity -- a much more active role in the lives of its users.

It’s a challenging aim. And Facebook is pursuing it in the same way it’s trying to solve the fake news problem -- through a simple survey asking people about trustworthiness (in the case of news) and the quality of interactions (in this latest effort). The approach has already sparked criticism: Doesn’t the company realize that the wisdom-of-crowds technique is what created viral over-sharing?

Zuckerberg defended the decision on Wednesday, saying “people are smart, they know what they want and what’s good.”

The answers to these surveys will help Facebook decide what to tell all users. So when the social network sends people a stream of prompts to interact with friends, Facebook can say they asked for it.

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