Snapchat hopes to stymie fake news with its extensive overhaul.
Snapchat’s most extensive redesign ever will separate communications from friends and professionally produced content. A new Discover feed on the right side of the app will show content from media publishers and verified celebrities. Messages from friends will be on the left. The camera will be in the center, emphasizing Snapchat’s role as the image-sharing messaging app.
The typical practice of social media feeds of mixing friends with publishers and influencers has helped fuel the fake news explosion and tarnished social media, according to Snapchat. “While blurring the lines between professional content creators and your friends has been an interesting Internet experiment, it has also produced some strange side-effects (like fake news) and made us feel like we have to perform for our friends rather than just express ourselves,” Snap states.
“Content designed to be shared by friends is not necessarily content designed to deliver accurate information. After all, how many times have you shared something you’ve never bothered to read?” writes Evan Spiegel, Snap Inc. co-founder and CEO, in an opinion piece for online news site Axios.
A New Kind of Algorithm
Snapchat’s algorithm will locate content for the new Discover feed based on user’s interests, not on interests of their friends as Facebook does. Research shows that your own past behavior, an approach Netflix takes when recommending movies to subscribers, is a far better predictor of your interest than your friends’ actions, Spiegel says.
“This form of machine learning personalization gives you a set of choices that does not rely on free media or friend’s recommendations and is less susceptible to outside manipulation,” he argues. “We think this helps guard against fake news and mindless scrambles for friends or unworthy distractions,” Spiegel says.
In addition, Snap employees will approve content that appears in the feed. That’s unlike Facebook which relies almost entirely on its algorithm. “Curating content in this way will change the social media model and also give us both reliable content and the content we want,” he says.
Spiegel doesn’t mention Facebook by name, but the inferences to Facebook’s problems with fake news problems and its algorithm-based feeds are clear. Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram have blatantly copied Snapchat features like its Stories feature while the startup messaging app has struggled to continue to gain users. Spiegel naturally may be angry at Facebook for stealing his features, and the opinion piece may be his chance to blow some steam.
Opportunities for Publishers
Publishers will be better able to distribute and monetize content under the new design, Spiegel says.
The redesign will allow videos ads on the Discover page and Promoted Stories on users’ feeds. While a feed-based system is unproved with Snapchat’s younger user base, the redesign represents an opportunity for the company to better target ads, Business Insider explains. While Snapchat has resisted highly targeted ads in the past, it’s moving toward offering companies improved ability to customize ads.
Will It Work?
Users may find the new design appealing and simpler than the older interface. However, it’s not really clear if separating social and media will stop or even noticeably slow the flow of fake news. In addition, the sheer volume of content make may it impossible for human editors to police it over the long term.
Facebook holds a far larger share of the social media pie. The network leads every other social media site as a source of news by far. According to the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of American adults use Facebook and 45 percent get news on the site. In comparison, 18 percent use Snapchat and just 5 percent obtain new through it. More people visit YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Fake news will likely remain a problem for the foreseeable future. Businesses, celebrities and their public relations teams will need to use subscription services to monitor fake news to protect their reputations.
Bottom Line: Snapchat hopes to solve social media’s fake news problem with a redesign that splits social from media. Mixing communications from professional content creators and friends is an experiment at the root of social media’s current problems, Snapchat asserts. Will Snapchat’s experiment with separate feeds solve those problems?