Facebook denies it’s a media company despite censorship decisions

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The News Feed is the heart and soul of Facebook, yet remains a pretty big mystery both in terms of how it works and how people use it.

So at TechCrunch Disrupt SF writer Josh Constine sat down with Adam Mosseri, a VP at Facebook and head of News Feed, to hear more about how exactly News Feed works.

The talk started with Constine asking Mosseri much content people consume daily on their News Feed. Mosseri shared a new statistic, which is that the average Facebook users reads a little over 200 stories a day on their feed, which is about 10 percent of the 2,000 possible stories Facebook has to show them each day.

The average user consumes this News Feed content over 45 minutes a day. This number is still growing, which Mosseri says the company interprets as a signal that they are making News Feed better every day.

The conversation then moved to what kind of content is shared on Facebook most, original sharing (like photos of your friends) or a publisher sharing a story (like CNN). Mosseri noted that both types of sharing were still growing, but publisher sharing is growing at a much faster rate – which could explain why the average users may feel like their News Feed is dominated by content from big new publications.

But Mosseri also said that the company definitely understands that friends and family come first and seeing content from loved ones is why many people come to Facebook in the first place. So they are going to ensure there is a good mix, and content from your friends remains on your feed.

Constine then asked about internet addiction amongst users and if it is something Facebook is concerned about. Mosseri replied that while they don’t track addiction they track a user’s sentiment, and try to understand if people think their News Feed experience is time well spent. Essentially they aren’t worried about someone using Facebook too much (and getting addicted) as long as the person is having a meaningful experience.

In terms of current focus, Mosseri then discussed how the company is very focused on developing markets, especially places like India where only 19% of citizens are online. These users often use low-end Android phones on slow 2G networks, and this is the device and connection that will give them their first experience on Facebook. So the company is very focused on making this user experience just as good as someone using Facebook’s app in San Francisco on an iPhone 7 connected to a fast LTE network.

The talk ended by the two discussing the Philando Castile shooting video which Facebook had at first temporarily removed from the site, then replaced it saying a “technical glitch” was to blame for its short removal. Mosseri clarified that this glitch was Facebook’s algorithms miscategorizing the content and accidentally flagging it as something else, not a technical glitch like a server going down.

This brings up the question what place does Facebook have to censor content? While the company insists it’s not a media company, it effectively fills the shoes of an editor saying “yes or no” to each specific piece of content. If Facebook thinks something is important enough to see, even if it violates standard News Feed guidelines, they will still allow it – placing them in a position that is pretty damn close to being a media company.

 

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