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Would you rather watch a video of a man you don’t know rescue a sloth, or read your cousin’s take on the January 6 hearings? Meta is betting on the former.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
If you’ve logged into Facebook recently, as almost 2 billion people around the world do each day, you may have noticed something new in your feed: more strangers. Last week, the social-media giant introduced two new different versions of your Facebook feed. While the familiar main page, formerly known as the News Feed, used to be where family, friends, and other accounts you follow have long shared humblebrags, dubious headlines, and slices of everyday life, the new Home page combines those things with posts from strangers it suggests based on your past Facebook activity. When I logged on last week, that meant a video of a man rescuing a sloth from the road and a screenshot of a meme from Twitter about introverts.
A separate new tab, Feeds, will show you only the people you’ve chosen to follow. But with Home, Meta—the parent company of Facebook and Instagram—is clearly steering its users to an experience that emphasizes posts from pages and people you don’t know: viral content selected by an algorithm for maximum entertainment value and slack-jawed viewing time. In other words, Facebook now wants to be TikTok.
TikTok is a short-form video platform that became famous for viral dances performed by the likes of fresh-faced tweens and teens whose queen was Charli D’Amelio. (Part of that DNA comes from Musical.ly, a lip-synching app that TikTok swallowed up in 2018.) But it truly exploded in the early days of the pandemic, when much of life moved online. Last fall, the app hit 1 billion active users. An estimated 25 percent of TikTok’s users in the U.S. are 10 to 19 years old—a demographic that Meta is hoping to win back.
Now TikTok is much more than a viral dance factory. TikTok generates many of the most inescapable memes, trends, and online debates. (If you’ve recently heard about coastal grandmothers or pink sauce, you have TikTok to thank, or maybe blame.) And if a meme doesn’t originate on TikTok, it usually ends up there, graduating from Twitter or Reddit to achieve true ubiquity. TikTok is now the closest thing the internet has to a town square, a place where every major news story, fashion trend, and cultural moment is filtered and repackaged into a short-form video.
Many young people are turning to TikTok and Instagram instead of Google to search for information such as where to get lunch; more and more, they rely on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube for news, as opposed to traditional outlets. Meanwhile, Facebook’s total user base declined for the first time at the end of 2021. In October, Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced grand plans to pioneer the metaverse and move social media into virtual reality, eventually conceding that the technology needed to do this won’t be mainstream for another five to 10 years. Meta turned to a familiar tactic to regain relevance in the meantime: cribbing features from its contemporaries. (Instagram stories were the company’s successful answer to Snapchat; reels, a less successful rejoinder to TikTok.)
The Home feed is an ambitious, or maybe desperate, attempt to recreate TikTok’s special sauce (not the pink kind). The For You page, TikTok’s main portal, pulls videos from anywhere and everywhere; over time, the algorithm that powers it tailors the content to you based on how you watch and share each type of clip.
When Instagram recently experimented with new TikTok-like features, stars of the platform such as Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and Chrissy Teigen howled in protest, and the head of the platform announced last week that it would reduce the number of suggested posts and scrap a new full-screen version as Instagram “works to improve” its algorithm. At the same time, Facebook cut funding for U.S. news publishers, essentially giving up on encouraging the sharing of anything of substance on the app.
No one famous is making a fuss about Facebook’s new changes, but Facebook has never been about famous people, anyway—not even the ones who are momentarily famous thanks to a viral video. Which probably isn’t a good sign for a company that’s prioritizing memes over status updates. Especially when the hot new thing is an app, BeReal, entirely focused on friends sharing “authentic” pictures once a day. Then again, Meta is already testing its own version of that too. Just in case.
- In a step toward alleviating the global food crisis, a ship carrying Ukrainian grain left the port of Odesa for the first time since Russia’s invasion.
- Nancy Pelosi arrived in Singapore on Monday to kick off her Asia visit. Administration officials say they expect the trip to include a stop in Taiwan, which China has warned would provoke a response.
- The Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused by a number of women of sexual assault or misconduct, was suspended for six games without pay for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.
- Humans Being: Behind the violence and crassness of HBO Max’s Harley Quinn is an unexpectedly heartfelt series, Jordan Calhoun writes.
- I Have Notes: Culture warriors can try to ban books, but kids will still read them, Nicole Chung argues.
- Famous People: On a steamy afternoon, Lizzie and Kaitlyn finally learn to shuck oysters.
- Up for Debate: Readers write in with their experiences of class prejudice in America.
What Made Bill Russell a Hero
By Jemele Hill
Not many people can make Charles Barkley, the former NBA MVP and legendarily outspoken broadcaster, pipe down. But the NBA icon Bill Russell, who died on Sunday age 88, once called Barkley and did just that.
“He called me. ‘Charles Barkley, this is Bill Russell.’ I said, ‘Oh hey, Mr. Russell,’” Barkley told me. “He said, ‘I need you to shut the fuck up.’ I said, ‘Okay.’”
More From The Atlantic
Read. Deacon King Kong, by James McBride, a novel so propulsive and fun that it’s almost hot to the touch.
Watch. The original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (available to rent on multiple platforms) is a pre-Clueless, Skittles-tinted ode to California ditz—but also so much more.
Listen. Beyoncé’s Renaissance is a big, gay mess. Hell yes, our critic writes.
Thanks for letting me hop on today’s Daily! If it didn’t make you curious about TikTok, maybe this will: The wonderfully woodsy TikTok hit “Stick Season,” by Noah Kahan. The artist first posted a snippet of the song back in October 2020, but it didn’t take off until last month, when users started sharing videos of their own covers. The song broke into the Spotify USA chart on July 20, and you can now catch Kahan on tour—if your city’s dates haven’t sold out.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.