Facebook is reportedly experimenting with a second News Feed that would display content from sources users have’t Liked or followed.
As detailed by TechCrunch, users of the social network’s iOS and Android apps have reported seeing a rocket ship icon under which content that Facebook thinks might be of interest is displayed.
Here’s what you need to know.
Facebook has acknowleged that it’s testing a new feature
According to Facebook, “We are testing a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, 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 explore new content they haven’t connected with yet.”
The rationale behind a second News Feed isn’t hard to grasp: despite its continued popularity and growth, Facebook is reportedly trying to keep user engagement up. According to internal documents that were leaked last year, the company is apparently concerned that its users are sharing fewer personal updates.
In what might have been a response to this trend, Facebook announced algorithm updates to prioritize updates from friends and family. The addition of a second News Feed could also conceivably help increase engagement.
It could be a boon to brand and marketers
Over the years, organic reach for posts by Facebook Pages has declined significantly. By one count, it dropped a whopping 52% for some 300 media companies in the first six months of 2016 alone.
While Facebook could of course tweak its algorithm to boost organic reach, that almost certainly would come at a cost to its ad business. A second News Feed, on the other hand, seems to offer Facebook a way to give brands with popular content greater reach without having to mess with its primary News Feed.
An added benefit of a second News Feed is that it would offer brands the ability to reach new Facebook users.
At the same time, it could help Facebook deal with its ad load challenge
In addition to the possibility that a second News Feed would allow Facebook to give brands greater reach without increasing News Feed organic reach, the second feed could also help Facebook deal with the fact that it has been warning about peak ad load for the past year.
While Facebook has not revealed any plans for ads in the experimental New Feed, there’s no reason to believe that Facebook couldn’t monetize the new feed if it is rolled out globally.
But it could also make “fake news” even more problematic
After coming under fire for its platform’s role in spreading “fake news” during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has announced numerous initatives to fight “fake news” that is spread through its network. It’s a big challenge for a number of technical and political reasons, and a second News Feed could complicate matters.
After all, Facebook’s second News Feed is designed, in part, to promote popular content, it’s conceivable that parties attempting to game the system could succeed, resulting in even more “fake news” being distributed.
Additionally, if a second News Feed introduces users to content that they don’t find relevant or that is orthogonal to their social values or political beliefs, it could prompt complaints that Facebook is acting in a biased manner intended to influence users.
Given the past claims regarding the curation of content for Facebook’s Trending section and psychological experiments the company ran without user knowledge, any attempt to add an element of human curation to a second News Feed could expose the social network to even greater scrutiny and criticism.
And users just might not like it
Even if a second News Feed doesn’t create a “fake news” crisis, it’s possible that users simply won’t like it and thus, won’t use it.
What has Facebook done now? I already really dislike that marketplace crap. Now what’s this rocket icon thing??? pic.twitter.com/l0obKojCJH
— Amanda Clinton (@Amanda_Clinton) March 4, 2017
Obviously, the user above doesn’t speak for all users, but there likely are many Facebook users who primarily use the service to keep in touch with friends and family, and to follow people and organizations they care about. If Facebook gets too aggressive in its efforts to introduce them to content from sources they aren’t familiar with, it might not have the intended effect.