Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg: ‘Not All Interactions in Social Media Are Equally Good for People’

Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook decided to change its News Feed to favor more “meaningful” connections, after looking at research showing that some kinds of usage of social networks have negative effects.

“What the data shows is not all interactions in social media are equally good for people in terms of their psychological well-being,” said Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, speaking at Morgan Stanley’s 2018 Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Wednesday.

CFO David Wehner, also speaking at the conference, said that Facebook’s News Feed changes will not dramatically affect advertising revenue. “I don’t think the impact on the business is really that profound,” he said. He said that by improving the overall experience for Facebook users, that would benefit advertisers as well over time by delivering a higher-quality product.

Facebook in January announced changes to the algorithm it uses to show posts in users’ News Feeds to favor content from friends and family, rather than posts from third-party publishers. The company has previously acknowledged studies indicating high levels of usage of social media can lead to depression and feelings isolation.

Sandberg admitted that 2017 was a “challenging year — that feels like a bit of an understatement” — and she said that 2018 feels like it will be too. “The world is very polarized… There’s a lot of deep-seated worry about the state of the world,” she said.

Critics have blasted Facebook for playing a part in the spread of false and misleading news stories, particularly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The company also has come under fire for selling ads to a Russia-linked group aimed at sowing political discord among Americans.

According to Sandberg, Facebook continues to take steps to address issues related to minimize the distribution of fake news and curtail bad actors who try to manipulate the platform. She said false news is mostly motivated by economics, not political ideology, so “the most important thing we can do is go after economic incentives.”

Regarding Facebook Watch, the video initiative it rolled out starting last summer, Sandberg said it was designed to provide an organized destination for users to discover and view longer-form content. About 40% of video viewing on Facebook is generated by sharing, Sandberg noted, so it has a particular focus on bringing content to Watch that will be social and engaging.

Facebook had to “stock the shelves” in Watch, so it paid for some of the programming, Sandberg said. “But it’s still the case that more of the content has been provided by others, not funded by us, and that’s definitely the model going forward,” she said.

Sandberg also called out the #MeToo movement, and said it was important that men don’t shy away from mentoring female coworkers out of fear. She cited surveys finding that men are now less likely to interact or travel with women colleagues, fearing reprisals.

“Not harassing us is important — but [it’s] basic,” she said. In addition to not engaging in behavior that never should happen in a workplace, women “need an equal amount of time and attention” in terms of mentoring from male coworkers, she said.

Last year, Facebook raked in revenue of $40.65 billion in revenue, up 47% year over year, and net income of $15.9 billion, up 56% despite negative impact of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in the fourth quarter. In December 2017, Facebook’s daily active user base reached 1.4 billion, versus 1.23 billion a year prior.

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