The New Facebook’s Long-Term Benefit to the Bottom Line

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Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to change Facebook’s algorithms may limit short-run earnings but should improve sustainability.

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Stephen Lam/Reuters

Mark Zuckerberg is discovering the cost of factory-farming Facebook’s users. The $550 billion social network’s success in harvesting advertising dollars through mass-appeal content has made it very profitable. The snag is that users are increasingly unhappy. The founder and chief executive’s return to focusing more on their welfare may limit short-run earnings but should improve sustainability.

The Facebook farm has become increasingly unwholesome. The company is at the center of a storm over the promotion of false news stories, some potentially placed with the intention of interfering with the 2016 presidential election. Time spent per user on the core site has been falling, albeit from a high base, according to Pivotal Research. Mr. Zuckerberg’s stated goals for 2018 are fixing the site, cleaning up abuse, limiting interference by nation states and “making sure time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”

Now Facebook is changing its algorithms, according to a post on Thursday, to put a priority on News Feed items that users’ friends share and interact with and reduce the amount of third-party non-advertising content. Multiple studies link time spent on social networks with unhappiness, and watching mass-produced videos and reading clickbait articles on a screen surely don’t help.

Facebook hopes higher-quality feeds will work better. “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.

This and possible changes like favoring reputable news sources over more sensational ones — which Facebook is considering, according to The Wall Street Journal — will probably hurt the company financially over the…

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