Facebook Engagement, Privacy And The Threat To Democracy

It’s been a busy month for Facebook, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg staring off the year with a public announcement that his resolution for the year was to fix the social network.

After strong criticism last year with a corresponding backlash, (Facebook consumption as of September last year failed to grow for the second consecutive month), the company has, over the course of this month committed to making the following changes:

Shift Away From Business Content

The first change announced was a planned shift away from business content, and towards more posts from friends and family, in what Facebook has called a “back to basics” approach that will lead to more meaningful social interactions.

This will, they hope, improve the user experience. However, it is expected to reduce the amount of time people spend on Facebook, as well as reduce the level of engagement currently experienced by some companies.

Posts that initiate back and forth discussions, or inspire others to share and react will be prioritised. Although this may mean less opportunity to expose users to brands overall, it should also make those opportunities more impactful than they were previously.

More Privacy & Control

Another goal of the social media giant that has just been announced is their intention to give users more privacy with their data, and more control over what ads are displayed on their timelines.

This follows an ultimatum from the EU laid down at the end of last year ordering that the company’s WhatsApp messaging service stop sharing data with the previous company unless explicit consent was given.

In response, Facebook is also going to improve user education on managing privacy settings, and what data is collected and why, as well as introducing a new privacy centre that features all core privacy settings in a single interface.

Threat To Democracy

In Facebook’s final announcement for this month, the company has warned that it cannot assure people that social media was good for democracy.  This announcement comes in the wake of recent allegations that the company had culpability in the sharing of “fake news” and alleged attempts to influence the outcomes of elections.

According to a post by Facebook product manager Samidh Chakrabarti, they cannot guarantee that the positives outweigh the negatives.

He added “Facebook moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.”

Facebook executives are apparently already addressing the company’s slow response to harassment, hate speech and “foreign influence” campaigns on various platforms in Europe, while investigations into both the US election and UK Brexit referendum continue.