“Facebook is pivoting,” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook Inc., said at Facebook’s Developer’s Conference in San Jose two weeks ago while unveiling his company’s “The Future Is Private” campaign.
Privacy and security scandals have rocked the company, and Facebook is eager to put them behind. At the Developer’s Conference, the social media giant discussed a number of changes it plans to implement across its platforms. Some of Facebook’s most notable changes include:
- A Complete Design Revamp: Facebook decided to change its logo, mobile app, and website design. Its logo is now a circle instead of a square, and the website will feature much less blue, which has been Facebook’s primary go-to color.
- Community-Centric: Facebook will be focusing on “communities” by making Facebook groups central to its platform. Users will be seeing more content from Facebook groups and less from their friends’ personal pages.
- End-To-End Encryption: Facebook Messenger will start using end-to-end encryption. That means Facebook won’t be able to read users private messages anymore! That is a big win for privacy advocates.
Facebook Messenger will also allow users to watch videos together while messaging each other or talking via video chat. This feature will be available later this year.
- “Away Mode”: Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) wants to “lead the fight against bullying” according to Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram. Instagram is therefore experimenting with a feature that allows users to place their accounts in “Away Mode” to give themselves space if they’re going through a rough time or just need a break from social media.
- Public Removal of Likes and Views: Instagram is removing the likes and views feature from Instagram photos. Users can still like photos and see how many people liked their own photos (if they tap them), but they will be unable to see how many people liked someone else’s photos. Said one Instagram spokesperson: “We are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”
This is a big change for a platform whose users have become obsessed with the number of likes or views their photos or videos receive. The change is currently being tested in Canada, after which Instagram will decide if, how, and when to roll it out globally.
According to a 2017 study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, Instagram is the worst social media app for young people’s mental health, followed closely by Snapchat. Instagram hopes this change will eliminate some of the feelings of inferiority that come with posting photos or videos that don’t get many likes or views. Of course, users can still see their own likes and views, so it certainly won’t eliminate all of these feelings.
- Shop-able Tags: Instagram is integrating a new shopping feature onto its platform, testing it with famous influencers like Kylie Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Kim Kardashian West, as well as large publishers like Elle and Vogue. How does it work? Influencers will be able to tag the products they are wearing with shop-able tags. If followers click the tag, they will be taken to a page where they can immediately purchase the product.
- Fundraisers: Instagram is adding a donation sticker to Instagram stories so users can start their own non-profit fundraisers for charities. This feature has already been unveiled. Users simply press the box with a smiley face in stories and tap the donation option, which leads to a list of non-profits. Users choose which non-profit most appeals to them and a sticker will appear in their stories, allowing their followers to donate.
- Content Stories: Instagram is allowing users to post content – and not just photos and videos – to their stories.
- Facebook Dating and Secret Crush: Facebook will introduce Facebook Dating, an opt-in dating service that allows users in 14 countries to create a dating profile. It currently is only available in five countries. Facebook also unveiled a Secret Crush feature that allows users to create a private list of friends they have a romantic interest in; if two users match, they will each be informed of their mutual crush. This feature is not available in the U.S. yet, but is expected to be later on this year.
While the changes are meant to change the perception surrounding Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, are they enough to earn back the public’s trust? Some experts worry Facebook is merely giving the impression of privacy by adding end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger when in reality the company is collecting even more data on users with some of its other new features such as Facebook Dating. Others argue that the “Away Mode” feature and the removal of likes will do little to stop bullying on Instagram.
The bigger worry, however, is that Facebook isn’t doing enough to stop hate on its platforms and that, by focusing on community groups and private messaging, it will continue spreading misinformation, misleading facts, and closed group-think enclaves. When hateful groups move towards closed, private chats, the chances of bigoted views going unchallenged and people on the fringes becoming influenced are even greater.