Engineers announce changes to the social network’s powerful News Feed.
This is interesting, I think - Facebook are tweaking their news feed so “meme photos” (pass the smelling salts!) are downrated and other stuff (content marketing bobbins most likely) gets uprated.
I barely use Facebook so I don’t really imagine this will “impact on my user experience” but it sheds a new light on a lot of the YOUNG PEOPLE ARE LEAVING FACEBOOK posts. You know the ones, I’m sure. It’s a strain of commentary that has bubbled up repeatedly over the last few years - “facebook fatigue” and so on- but has reached a new pitch this autumn with lots of brouhaha over kids heading to Snapchat and messaging services.
This has, according to commentary, consequences FAR beyond the unflattering sight of lots of ageing marketers signing nervously up to Kik. It means Facebook are losing touch with The Kids and that can’t be a good thing. What few of the commenters have suggested is that perhaps Facebook doesn’t actually care that much about said The Kids? Maybe it doesn’t see much value in catering to them?
OK, “meme photos” aren’t only a young person’s ‘thing’ and they certainly aren’t the totality of teenage internet culture, but they’re definitely youth-identified so it’s symbolic and interesting that Facebook has designated THIS particular cultural form as low-value content.
Something I wonder if commentators intuitively grasp about Facebook - I certainly don’t, I need to remind myself of it - is quite HOW vast and mainstream it actually is, particularly in Western markets. By dint of being the centre of so many people’s online life it’s as close as the Internet gets to a neutral public space (despite being made up of overlapping semi-public customised privately-owned spaces).
As a kind of communal mainstream space it’s not surprising Facebook is developing the same kind of conflicted relationship with “young people” as public spaces have always had. When I was a teenager the local paper was full of editorial clamour about youths hanging around the clock tower in Leatherhead town centre. (It wasn’t a very good clock tower. It didn’t have a clock for one thing.) I don’t think the youths ever did much, maybe a bit of Thunderbird was drunk, who knows, but it was a flashpoint for the town’s issues with its youth.
Of all the visitors to Leatherhead town centre the kids hanging around the clocktower stayed the longest and contributed - in commercial terms - the least. They had not much money and lots of time and they had to end up somewhere. And this was repeated across Britain and across much of the world - a surplus of time and energy and a lack of spending power spells H-A-S-S-L-E for capitalist public space. It bothers more commercially important visitors. So a lot of effort was spent on minimising the visible and cultural presence of kids in the town or at least proposing schemes to achieve this.
The parallels to Facebook aren’t perfect but they’re not specious either. As its audience skews older and wider it probably doesn’t want to project an image of being overrun by kids doing incomprehensible and annoying kids things. Adults - marketers excepted - don’t generally like to hang out in teen-dominated spaces. (Yes I am aware that I’m posting this on Tumblr, thankyou). So Facebook downweights some of the most visible ‘junk’ - i.e. youth-identified - content and becomes more, not less, valuable to advertisers.
(The biggest break in the analogy is that the kids at the clock tower really didn’t have much else to do, and people on Facebook have a whole internet full of other rubbish to distract them, so discouraging kids from open physical spaces is often a Bad Thing, whereas I don’t really deep down care about what Facebook do.)