Facebook’s arrogant and patronizing statement about changes to the News Feed

Facebook’s Explore Feed is nestled deep in the side rail — you must expand the list even to see it.

Facebook’s News Feed shows both what your friends share and what companies that you follow share. In some countries, Facebook is ripping the company stuff out of the news feed. But publishers need not worry, because as it says in its patronizing, arrogant, and ultimately meaningless statement, it has “no plans” to make those changes worldwide . . . yet.

This is a big deal. In Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia — yes, six whole countries — Facebook has created two separate feeds, one with posts from your friends and paid ads, and the other with posts from businesses’ and publishers’ pages. That’s bad news for any companies who won’t pay — including clubs and consultants — because their content won’t appear in the feed that normal people are checking. Instead they’ll appear in a separate “Explore Feed.”

But this is just a test, right? After some agitation from those maintaining pages, Facebook put out a blog post to reassure them.

Facebook’s statement is full of holes

Here’s the post, with weasel words highlighted and a translation from me.

Clarifying Recent Tests

By Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed

There have been a number of reports about a test we’re running in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. Some have interpreted this test as a future product we plan to deliver globally. We currently have no plans to roll this test out further.

Translation: We can change it however we want in any countries we want. We test things any way we feel like. We can roll this test out anywhere we want in the future. We own the platform, we can do whatever we want with it.

We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed. People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.

Translation: At Facebook, companies are not people. Companies have to pay to get into the News Feed. If not, they’ll live in a promotional ghetto that no one will visit. At least, that’s what we’re testing.

The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further. There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore. Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation — but that was not our intention.

Translation. We want to see if we can get away with killing organic (unpaid) page reach completely. I repeated “There is no current plan” because that phrase emphasizes that we can change our minds later. You can guess all you want, but we own the platform, we can do whatever we want with it.

It’s also important to know this test in these six countries is different than the version of Explore that has rolled out to most people. Outside of the above countries, Explore is a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos automatically customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to discover relevant content from pages they haven’t connected with yet. While Explore includes content from relevant pages, posts from pages that people like or follow will continue to appear in News Feed.

Translation: Yes, we already have an Explore feed. Check the left rail, tucked all the way at the bottom. It’s a dusty space no one visits, a perfect place to stick posts from publishers and pages that haven’t paid so we can say they can sort of reach you. It’s “complementary” to (that is, parallel to and different from) the News Feed, the way the gum on the bottom of your shoe is “complementary” to your outfit. But we own the platform, we can do whatever we want with it.

As with all tests we run, we may learn new things that lead to additional tests in the coming months so we can better understand what works best for people and publishers.

Translation: Like I said, we own the platform, we can do whatever we want with it.

The closer I looked at this statement, the more arrogant it seemed

This is a statement intended to reassure. But among those with pages, only the most credulous of readers could possibly find it reassuring.

Here are some key phrases that upset me, and should upset you.

  • “There is no current plan.” This is as meaningless as it gets. If it is a lie, there is no way to know. Why are they doing a test? To see if it accomplishes their goals. When they figure that out, they’ll create a plan. This reassurance means nothing.
  • “We’ve heard from people.” (Also here “people tell us” and “we will hear what people say.”) This almost echoes the Trumpian “I’m hearing” and “People are saying.” It’s cowardly. And it is fundamentally false, because Facebook pays attention to the traffic and the revenue — what people say is far less important than what they do. Do you really think that anyone outside of Facebook PR is even listening to what “people” say?
  • “Some have interpreted.” (Also as “some have mistakenly made that interpretation.”) Because Facebook posts don’t include linked text, we don’t get links to the “some” who have posted this. A fundamental principle of blogging is you link to what you’re talking about. Facebook gets to defend itself against what seem to be faceless accusers — except that they’re not faceless, you can find them easily. But they don’t have the courage to point them out.

One word for this is patronizing. Facebook is treating publishers, pages, and those who analyze the company as annoying children. We’re not supposed to pay attention to a test that changed the feed in six whole countries. We’re supposed to recognize that Facebook listens to unknown “people.” And this post it reduces critics, journalists, and analysts to a vague “some” — as if they are some troublesome hoi polloi that can easily be ignored.

This statement is arrogant. Given the effect Facebook collectively has on all of our lives, what we buy, what we think, and how we vote, arrogance is a bad look.

A personal note

I maintain a Facebook page. It reached 1,000 people last week and has 551 followers. It’s not a huge part of my online and social presence — this blog is the center of what I do.

I post links to this blog on the page nearly every day. When those posts are popular, Facebook tells me I should “boost” them — that is, pay to promote them. I’ve tried to do this, since it’s pretty cheap.

However, each time I do so, Facebook rejects my request to advertise because there is a word in the title of my blog that it finds offensive.

I get repeated requests to promote posts in my own Facebook feed and in my email, but Facebook’s algorithm is too stupid to realize that it’s asking me to do something that violates its own standards. Facebook is basically Lucy from “Peanuts” inviting me to kick its football, then pulling it away.

This is what happens when a private company owns a public platform. If Facebook does in the United States what it has done in Sri Lanka and Slovakia, its pages will be of no value to me and my meager collection of followers.

That in itself is only a very personal and idiosyncratic reason to be mad at Facebook. Facebook’s arrogant and patronizing statements are worse. But it still tweaks me.

But you can be happy that Facebook is saving you from bullshit. The word, that is. Not actual bullshit content — that, there’s plenty of.

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  1. Josh – do you want your content to appear in these countries? This seems like a clumsy attempt by Facebook to solve a problem they have with their metrics. In Cambodia certainly and maybe the others, people ‘like’ everything which they see on the News Feed, artificially inflating metrics and sometimes, if you are not careful but paid targeting, costing you actual money. The choice of the countries seems specifically designed to filter out low value traffic to your content. Maybe you have lots of fans in Bolivia and Serbia who are going to get screwed by this, but I doubt it.

  2. I’m not sure what Facebook is trying to do here. Good marketing means creating good social media content, but that means that people want to see businesses’ and publishers’ content. Facebook is weakening its feed by removing content that people have explicitly signed up for.

    They may want to do that. In the broad dichotomy of people who care about people and people who care about ideas, Facebook may prefer to attract the former to their audience. Maybe they stay around longer. Maybe they interact with ads differently. Maybe Facebook is agreeing behind closed doors not to compete for the latter audience. Or maybe it is trying to separate the two groups to see how people who bother to “Explore” behave.

    There have been so many Facebook algorithm scares, it feels like an online store that is constantly having a sale for some “special” event. What if nothing is going on? A little cynical of Facebook, but I would get frustrated with their target audience, too.

    I would get frustrated if people who failed to build their own platforms, whether by putting the same brand on multiple free social media sites, or by having a website and email list, were screaming at Facebook just because it’s running a business. Maybe they’re not worth the regard.

  3. I’m from Slovakia. Thank you for this article. After the Explore feed i just realised how much power FB has. I publish my articles on my blog, just aj you and share it- but, the readers are addicted to FB… If you don’t share your thing on FB, just a little % will open your blog without FB.
    Maybe time will help…

    In the new FB newsfeed i often see post from my “friends” 3-4 day old- it is a little bit amusing (and much more irritating). No adds. No sponsored posts. (Why?)
    If i visit the explore feed… i spend 5-10 minutes to ban some pages- that “i may like” and search for the pages which i like. After a while i don’t open the explore feed- i open pages via: search. And after few days i just use google.

    Many of my friends minimized the use of FB.
    Facebook was like loveboat- too sweet. People are addicted to it, it is like the center of informations. But too much power in 1 hand leads newer to good things… and yes: this is they platform…
    So long, and thanks for all the fish FB.