Facebook says its new ranking algorithm is a move toward "more meaningful" communication between its users. Yet the changes will carry business consequences, and not just for Facebook.
By demoting so-called public content from user news feeds — posts by businesses, organizations and media outlets — in favor of posts from family and friends, Facebook is betting that a return to its roots will put the company in better long-term shape.
The heart of Facebook's business model is the network's roughly 2 billion users and the promise of their regular engagement with the platform. High user numbers and regular engagement translate into advertising dollars for the tech giant.
Recent signs suggest users may be growing uneasy with the platform. Monthly user numbers fell in August and September, even as social media sites like Google and YouTube continued to grow their audience.
Talk of 'Facebook Fatigue' is hardly new. But a feeling among users that they're seeing less personal news from friends and family and more public posts has grown as the platform has increasingly catered to business and organizations.
Adding to that perception was Facebook's role in the 2016 US election, where it became a digital watering hole for "fake news," misleading claims and even paid propaganda.
As countries like Germany enacted tougher laws against social media platforms and penalized false posts, a company that once claimed it was just a "tool" found itself facing a role as arbiter of specific values — and regulators breathing down its neck.
Media outlets suffer
The new move is hardly a cure for the political rancor that still finds a home on Facebook. It might lower the incentive for certain players — in particular those who peddle mistruth in large-scale — who may find their access isn't the same. But popular opinions will still ricochet around certain user groups and opinion bubbles, regardless of whether they're based in fact.
The same access to Facebook will be curtailed for those with better intentions, including media outlets and organizations like charities and advocacy groups. Media outlets could find the rules a particular blow, as many had tailored their offerings to Facebook and even worked closely with the company to ensure the best traffic.
With fewer internet users visiting news sites, Facebook and other social networks represented a front-page for many users.
An anti-competitive move?
Does that mean Facebook is acting anti-competitively? Monopoly expert Achim Wambach of the Center for European Economic Research said monopoly requires a "bottleneck" of companies around a particular firm to get access they need.
"It's hard to make the bottleneck argument," Wambach said. "You suffer if Facebook acts this way, but it's not the only way to advertise."
Facebook expects that some users will be disappointed by the changes and that numbers could drop as a result. But if it can improve the overall user experience, it stands to profit in the future. Facebook still has plans for its users, after all, including offering them its own video content, a move in the direction of Netflix.