SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg warned in January that radical changes he’s making to return Facebook to its roots connecting friends and family would curtail how much time people spend there.
He wasn’t kidding. Those changes that got underway last quarter are already hitting engagement numbers, reducing time users spend on Facebook by 5%, as the giant social network shows people fewer viral videos.
“In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day,” Zuckerberg said, in announcing the social media company’s fourth-quarter results that topped Wall Street expectations.
Pressure has been building on Facebook and its CEO as the toxic content flowing through Facebook — violent live videos, fabricated news articles and divisive messages from Russian operatives that rocked the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign — has been blamed for social ills. Facebook is also under fire for exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology to hook people on social media, hijacking their time and attention and undermining their well-being. In recent months, Facebook has admitted that passive use of Facebook — aimless scrolling through the news feed — can be bad for mental health.
As people show signs of gravitating away from Facebook, Zuckerberg says his personal challenge for 2018 is to fix what ails the giant social network. The focus is no longer on how much time its 2 billion-plus users spend on Facebook, but whether that time is “well spent.”