By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation Weekend
Facebook is moving into its next chapter as it rearranges the platform’s furniture and brings in new tech to add to the social fun and respond to the shifting behaviour of its users.
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook Inc, said there have been rapid shifts in the behaviour of its users. The current shift has people moving from mainly participating in the News Feed and through public posts to now telling their stories.
People want to share in different ways, she said at Facebook’s International Press Day last Wednesday. They want to share in one way and then in another and yet another.
“The other thing we are very focused on, because it meets with our vision, which we have changed to focus on community, is the power of groups,” said Sandberg.
She said staff are seeing more and more activity taking place in Facebook Groups, which users can set up to be public, private, secret or open. The Groups option is designed to bring people together.
Meanwhile, for safety and security, Sandberg said, the company is working hard to make sure it preserves the good that happens in the community, but also to make sure it prevents the harm.
“With a community of 2.7 billion people, we are making massive investments in safety and security. We are working very closely with governments around the world to do things like protect elections. We are working really hard with our internal teams, product teams to find bad actors and take them down,” said Sandberg.
She said the company does not want people to encounter fake news on Facebook and so is taking action around the world. It is referring Facebook articles to third-party fact-checkers, who can then decrease the post’s distribution through News Feed as well as present related facts. Facebook is a free-expression platform, she said, and is committed to the idea that if one person says something that is false, the only way to fight it is with good information.
“We do believe there are situations where if something is fake, and it could lead to real-world violence, we will take it down. We do not want sales news to go viral. [So] we take away 80 per cent of the distribution and allow related articles – which are the other side of the story – so that debate can be vigorous,” said Sandberg.
Regarding its video entertainment content, the company is also planning to invest more. Their idea anchoring Facebook Watch is that the content consumed by most people on Facebook is pretty short form, and that most people discover video content through their friends, family, and the things that they connect to, like News Feed. However, people were increasingly doing longer-form things on their phones, and were increasingly discovering content in different ways than through recommendations.
“We did not really have a place for that. The idea was to create its own specification for longer-form content. Some [content] we pay for, but most of it … anyone can submit and we will help them monetise through ads,” she said.
“It is doing nicely. We had big hits like Red Table Talk and Tom Brady. We also had user-generated stuff that went well. We do expect to continue making investments here and showing people more long-form video, said Sandberg.
The company has done a lot of work on psychological well-being, she said. This is something that will continue to evolve and change, and is done with researchers. One finding was that when people are connecting with real friends and family and engaging with content, it is pretty psychologically healthy for them. It is not addictive in a bad way, but rather positive because people feel less alone, less isolated and more connected. However, when people are passively observing things that can be psychologically more negative.
She points as an example to the company’s large shift on News Feed at the beginning of 2018, which gave preference to posts from friends and family, for example.
“We are committed to psychological well-being and we will continue to do that research, and will continue to make sure that the things Facebook is showing you are the things that will be good, and not be addictive in any negative way, but will give people a positive psychological benefit,” said Sandberg.
She claimed that those people who have the most connections to others on Facebook and online have stronger real-world relationships. It is the people who are isolated and do not have those relationships who tend not to be online.
“We know who you are connecting to and what you are engaging with. For the average person, for every story we show [them] in News Feed we have a dozen more that we could show [them]. Our algorithms are showing people more of the things they are engaging with. We are connecting billions of people. I am not saying this to minimise [the down side] at all. The challenge is big, but it is a challenge that comes with every new technology,” said Sandberg.
However, as an example of what they are capable of to improve the social good, the platform just rolled out a blood donation feature in the Unites States, after previously doing so in India, Pakistan, Brazil and Bangladesh. People in those countries can sign up to be a blood donor on Facebook by going to the “Blood Donations” tab in the About section of their profile. As well, blood donation centres needing donors can request donations and send notifications to those nearby who have signed up.
Fidji Simo, head of Facebook App, said that people are coming to the platform for more and more different kinds of things as they find it can meet an increasing range of needs. This is part of the vision for the app leading into the next year.
The Facebook App is playing a very big part in making sure it is giving people a method to share in all the ways that they want to, from the more public ways to very private ways using one-on-one messaging. Groups are at the heart of that.
One of the things on which the company has been particularly investing a lot is groups. That is because in a privacy-focused future, it is important to understand that people want to share in a range of ways.
“We are seeing a lot of people wanting to engage and share things in groups that they may not even want to share with friends and family, so that is why it is critical for us. A couple of weeks ago we announced a big redesign of the Facebook App that puts groups at the centre,” said Simo.
In addition to offering a fresh design that is both faster and allows users to navigate the app in a more enjoyable way, Groups also provides a way for users to more easily access their communities. Following the revamp, the number of people joining groups and becoming part of meaningful communities is increasing as was expected, she said.
There is always a lot of competition in News Feed, making it harder to get people’s attention. People do not always fully realise the immense volume of content on the platform, and the volume increase continues as ever-more public content is published.
The latest change to groups allows people to connect there to the groups most relevant to them and to consume the content whenever they desire a community experience.
However, group content is taking over the News Feed. Still, News Feed remains in line with its historical role and the latest changes do not specifically affect referral traffic.
There is a way for publishers to participate in groups, and many publishers are creating communities around their content, there, she said.
“Leverage groups to let people talk to each other about the communities you are creating,” Simo advises, “instead of talking at them, which is more what a page on Facebook is about.”
Katherine Woo, director of product management for Facebook Groups, noted that 1.4 billion people now use groups monthly, over 400 million people say they belong to a group they find meaningful. Some groups are more informational, some are light-hearted, while others offer emotional support.
“We are making some changes to put groups at the centre of the Facebook experience, things like a redesigned Groups tab where we bring together all of your groups content in one place, [along with] new and improved discovery tools to make it easier for you to find groups and communities that will interest you. As well, there are special features for certain types of communities, like health and gaming communities,” said Woo.
Watch is the video destination on Facebook, said Paresh Rajwat, the product director and head at Facebook.
Watch is much more than just a library of great videos so that people can follow video creators they care about, start conversations about videos with friends and join communities of fans who share their interests, he said.
Watch was launched in the US two years ago and went international to nearly every country some 10 months ago. It is fast-growing, with around grow 720 million people watching monthly, and 140 million people daily now spending at least a minute on Watch. Daily visitors spend an average 26 minutes on the platform. “Our mission is to create a shared experience and a feeling of belonging by using video. We are making it easier to find and join Groups based on the videos users watch, and testing new sections in Watch to help them enjoy videos with friends,” said Rajwat.
It aims to keep content a personalised experience for everyone on Facebook. It has also encouraged formation of an ecosystem of publishers and content creators, who in turn are able to make money on their creations through the Ad Breaks programme. Ad Breaks recently expanded to Canada and added five new languages (Kannada, Marathi, Telugu, Punjabi and Swedish), after first reaching 40 countries last December.
Rajwat sees Ad Breaks as great way for publishers to monetise cont
From shared lives and experiences to buying and selling
The way people share and connect has changed. Facebook Stories is a way to share everyday stories in the moment. More than 500 million people use stories across Facebook and Instagram every single day.
Some of the latest features from stories include events in stories, group stories and birthday stories.
There are more than 200 million people who have listed themselves as single in their relationship status on Facebook. Many of them already use Facebook to start meaningful relationships.
Currently, this service is available in 19 countries and will be in the US later this year. Some of the latest features from Facebook Dating include Secret Crush and Share Live Location.
Gaming powers the largest and most engaged communities on Facebook, with more than 700 million people playing games, watching gaming videos or engaging in gaming groups each month. Its latest product includes a dedicated Facebook Gaming tab on the home navigation bar of Facebook to make it easy for people to find and connect around their favourite games, streamers, groups and more.
One of Facebook’s core missions, the company says, is to give people the power to build community and it has designed Memorialisation with this in mind.
Over 30 million people view memorialised profiles every month to post stories, commemorate milestones and remember those who have passed away. Recently, it announced updates to make this experience even more supportive for those in need.
Controls have always been fundamental to what Facebook builds, whether it is for News Feed, ads or privacy settings.
These controls include ones to personalise their experience and the content they see from friends and family, as well as controls they have over your information, both in terms of the ads that surface and their privacy settings.
Marketplace is a place on Facebook to browse, buy, and sell items — anything from furniture to cars and household items. People can start selling on Facebook Marketplace in three easy steps: snap a few photos of the item, write a brief description and name the price.
Facebook has invested in research over the years to get a better understanding of the net impact of Facebook on well-being. Facebook is a platform where people fulfil important needs like belonging, support, accomplishment, and pursuing interests – powered by access to social connections.
Facebook’s community standards cover a wide range of policy areas to catch all kinds of harmful content – everything from bullying and harassment to hate speech, spam and impersonation. The content review process is very complex, and therefore one that Facebook says it takes very seriously. The team reviews content 24/7 in almost every language widely used in the world.