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Facebook forsakes friends and family to compete with TikTok

Creator content will take a more prominent role as the social media giant faces intensifying competition from the Chinese juggernaut

Meta company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on, Feb. 28. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Facebook announced Thursday that it’s overhauling the design of its flagship social network by elevating content from creators over posts from friends and family in an effort to fend off intensifying competition for users’ attention from TikTok.

In a statement, Facebook said users’ default screen, known as Home, will display more entertaining posts from outside creators and will provide easy access to its short-form video service known as Reels as well its ephemeral video product known as Stories.

Users who want to see the most recent posts from friends, family, and favorite pages and groups will find them on a new “Feeds” tab. Users will be able to create a Favorites list of people and groups they most want to see content from.

“The app will still open to a personalized feed on the Home tab, where our discovery engine will recommend the content we think you’ll care most about,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post. “But the Feeds tab will give you a way to customize and control your experience further.”

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Facebook, which last year renamed itself Meta, has been aggressively investing in its video products to compete for young users against ByteDance’s video-sharing app, TikTok, which has become the world’s fastest-growing social media platform through its personalized delivery of short, engaging videos. Zuckerberg has said investing in and figuring out how to make more money from its similar product, Reels, is a top priority for the company.

“People have a lot of choices for how they want to spend their time, and apps like TikTok are growing very quickly,” Zuckerberg said during a call with investors this year. “This is why our focus on Reels is so important over the long term.”

Tejas Dessai, a research analyst at financial services firm Global X ETFs, said Facebook’s change is part of a larger shift in the social media market, where users are spending more time consuming bite-size pieces of immersive content while turning to private messaging apps for one-on-one communication.

“I think Facebook is responding to what the consumer, what the user, is asking for,” he said. More and more users are turning to Facebook and Instagram “to discover more information to understand more about the world.”

Despite the change, Dessai added that users will probably still turn to the company’s services to talk with their friends and family through direct messages or its messaging app WhatsApp.

During the final three months of last year, Facebook reported that it lost daily users for the first time in its 18-year history, sending its stock price plummeting. While the social media outlet’s user growth numbers held stable early this year, company executives have said they are focusing their energies on winning the attention of young people.

In contrast, TikTok has seen its U.S. user base soar to more than 110 million.

Facebook continues to face several threats to its business, including a potential recession that could prompt marketers to slash digital advertising budgets. Apple is also imposing new privacy restrictions designed to curb app makers such as Facebook’s ability to collect data on their users for the purposes of targeted advertising.

“For a long time now, Facebook legacy has been on the decline,” Dessai said, referring to Facebook’s legacy app. “It was a do-or-die situation, and Facebook wants to take a shot at keeping the platform running.”

Facebook’s strategy for figuring out what content users most want to see in their news feeds has been evolving for years. In the mid-2010s, the company was most focused on increasing the amount of time users spent on the site and often elevated clickbait articles and professionally produced videos into users’ feeds.

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In 2018, Facebook changed its recommendation algorithm to prioritize posts that encourage engagement, which meant elevating content from friends and family but also divisive content that sparked intense emotional reactions, according to a trove of documents shared with regulators last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Since then, the company has continued to modify the way users find new content. This year, it began offering users of its photo-sharing app Instagram two new ways to view content, including by catching up on the most recent content from their favorite friends and creators or content from accounts they follow.

Instagram also recently updated its recommendation algorithm to prioritize original content over users who are simply sharing others’ posts at a time when the app is rife with videos from TikTok.

“If you create something from scratch, you should get more credit than if you are re-sharing something that you found from someone else,” Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a video announcing the change. “We’re going to do more to try and value original content more, particularly compared to reposted content.”

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