Narrative: Facebook's Power
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Narrative: Facebook’s Power (Jan 24, 2017)
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Facebook Moderation Guidelines Leak (May 22, 2017)
Facebook is taking additional steps to lower the ranking of clickbait articles in the News Feed, something it began explicitly targeting last year. In the past, it’s used a combination of signals including the ratio of reads to shares to determine whether an article over-promises and under-delivers, and down-ranking sites and domains which persistently post clickbait. But it’s now examining the actual content of the headline for both withholding information and exaggeration and lowering the ranking for those pieces which exhibit these characteristics. On the one hand, this is a good thing: less of this content in Facebook means we’re all more likely to read worthwhile stories that actually tell us something useful or meaningful. But on the other hand, this stuff has always existed and no-one has ever attempted to regulate it in the way Facebook now is. Unlike fake news, which has the power to sway elections and have other significant negative real-world impacts, clickbait has far less real-world impact. And if people continue to click on those headlines, it suggests they’re interested in reading the contents whether or not the headlines are misleading or manipulative. The stuff wouldn’t be shared by users on Facebook or show up in the News Feed in the first place if it wasn’t popular, which means Facebook is making value judgments here which not all of its users would agree with. As with Google’s frequent tweaking of its search algorithms to suppress sites with behaviors it disapproves of, I always feel this is dangerous territory.
Facebook Expands Paid WiFi Access Product to India (May 4, 2017)
Mark Zuckerberg today announced that Facebook will be hiring 3,000 additional people (on top of the 4,500 it already has in this area) to work on reviewing content, in light of several recent horrific events that have taken place or been promoted on its live video platform. There have been calls for Facebook to shut down or severely limit its live video capability because of the murders and suicides which have been broadcast or bragged about on the platform, but that’s always felt a little overly heavy-handed to me. This approach is much more in line with what I’ve proposed, which is that Facebook needs better reporting tools and a more rapid response to those reports. Later today we’ll get an update on total employee numbers, but as of the end of 2016 Facebook had 17,000, meaning that its 4,500-strong existing team was already a quarter of total employees. Even if Facebook’s total headcount grows on the past trend line, 7,5000 employees in this area would make up around a third of its employees, which is remarkable. As Facebook dives deeper into hosting its own content, it’s having to spend inordinate amounts of money and employee time policing that content, something I suspect it didn’t fully anticipate when it embarked on this strategy a few years ago.
One of the biggest complaints of creators when it comes to Facebook’s video platform has been that copied and pirated versions of their content frequently garner lots of views on the platform without accruing any revenue for the original creator. Facebook has been slow to take these videos down, partly because it hasn’t had a great system in the past for identifying them (though that’s now starting to change), and as a result the damage has often been done by the time it fixes things. Facebook is now going to allow the original owners to claim the pirated videos and then receive the royalties from them, which should help assuage those concerns somewhat. But of course ideally Facebook would shut the infringing videos down in a timely fashion so that the original owner could receive the views in the first place, because this issue isn’t just about what for today are fairly minimal video ad revenues. It’s also about the original channel capturing the views and thereby growing its audience. Hopefully having the content identification technology in place will give creators the option to do that. I’m also guessing this won’t help with the live video copyright issue Facebook also has.
Facebook Expands Messenger Lite to 150 More Countries (Apr 27, 2017)
Facebook Lite has been a critical element of Facebook’s recent growth, so pushing the Lite version of Messenger to more countries is a key priority too, since it’s only been in a handful of countries so far. Some of these 150 new countries are the emerging markets where the product is particularly useful because of bandwidth constraints and costs, but also included are mature markets like Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands, though not the US as far as I can tell. This should help keep the growth in Messenger going for a good while longer, because emerging markets are going to make up an increasingly proportion of user growth at Facebook going forward.