Instagram and Facebook will dramatically increase the number of posts in people’s feeds from accounts they don’t follow.
The amount of content that is recommended by artificial intelligence and comes from people, groups or accounts that people haven’t actually chosen to see will more than double by the end of 2023, according to Mark Zuckerberg.
The chief executive of Meta – the parent company that runs Instagram and Facebook, as well as WhatsApp – said the company was building a “discovery engine” that was aimed at showing people other kinds of content.
He made the announcement during a difficult earnings call for Meta, which reported the first ever revenue decline in its history. It blamed the problems on a weakening economy, fewer money being spent on ads, and competition from TikTok.
But Mr Zuckerberg’s announcement comes amid intense controversy over the direction of Instagram. In recent days, a viral movement has begun that urges Instagram to stop attempting to become more like TikTok – with those recommendations from other accounts being one of the many new features that have been criticised by users.
At the moment, about 15 per cent of content in people’s Facebook feeds comes from recommendations, Mr Zuckerberg said. On Instagram, the number is “a little higher”.
But the company will be increasing that already controversial amount of content with the aim of increasing engagement and the “quality of our feeds”, Mr Zuckerberg said. That in turn should help revenue because Meta makes more money when people use those parts of its app, he claimed.
Mr Zuckerberg also said that such recommendations had helped driven an increased amount of time spent with “Reels”, a feature aimed at taking on TikTok by borrowing many of its features. Those began on Instagram but now show on Facebook too, and Mr Zuckerberg said that there had been a 30 per cent increase in the amount of time spent watching them – an increase he said was largely due to those AI recommendations.
A move towards recommending content from accounts that people haven’t followed or even interacted with is a major shift for Meta. In the past, the company has publicly committed to fostering “meaningful social interactions” and connection between people, rather than encouraging them to engage with strangers’ content.
Mr Zuckerberg claimed during the earnings call that those two aims were not in conflict, and that he still sees Meta as “ultimately a social company focused on helping people connect”. He pointed to the fact that people will often send content they see in their feeds onto their friends, and then engage with those people in direct messages.
The recommendations were just one attempt by Mr Zuckerberg to respond to the weak results. He also suggested that he will be asking staff to work at an increased intensity with fewer resources, and that it would be building ways to personalise ads despite new Apple features that make it harder for the company to track users around the internet.