Jul 26, 2022 - Podcasts

The TikTokification of Facebook

Last week, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, announced major changes to its app. Instead of the Facebook feed we’re all used to -- with posts from friends and family -- the app will look a lot more like TikTok. As Axios’ Scott Rosenberg writes, this marks the end of almost two decades of social networking as we knew it.

  • Plus: Pope Francis makes a historic apology to the Indigenous people of Canada.
  • And: civilian defense training in Taiwan, as tensions with China grow.

Guests: Axios' Scott Rosenberg and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, July 26th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Pope Francis makes a historic apology to the Indigenous people of Canada. Plus, civilian defense training in Taiwan, as tensions with China grow.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the TikTokification of Facebook.

NIALA: Last week Facebook's parent company Meta announced major changes to its app. Instead of the Facebook feed we're all used to with posts from friends and family,

the app's gonna look a lot more like TikTok. As Axios’ managing editor for tech Scott Rosenberg writes, this marks the end of almost two decades of social networking as we knew it. So what comes next? Scott joins us now to answer that question. Hey!


NIALA: So Scott this certainly isn't the end of social media, but it is the end of this version of social networking?

SCOTT: Yeah. I mean if you think of what we all know of as social networking, which is something that really came to prominence almost 20 years ago and has come to dominate the internet. The things that your friends post, the things that your friends like, the things that your friends reshare, those are the things that are foremost in the feeds that Facebook and other social networking services provide. The whole premise of social networking is being discarded, because the people whose videos and other kinds of content you're now going to be seeing are people that you actually, in most cases have no relationship with. You don't know them, you don't know who they are and Facebook has decided that you're gonna like this stuff. And you might like it, it might be a really fun, wonderful experience, but it's not what I think of as social networking.

NIALA: So, how is this new algorithm gonna be different than the previous newsfeed algorithm that Facebook used to have?

SCOTT: That's a little hard to answer because Facebook is an opaque organization that doesn't tell you a lot about exactly how it's determining what posts you're seeing. But I think the shortest answer to that is just to look at the source of the material. What Facebook is now doing, is following the lead of TikTok, which has found this huge success, by pursuing, um, a model that's that they call and other companies now call a discovery engine. And a discovery engine is an essentially a machine learning based or AI based algorithm, a program, that looks at what millions of users collectively are consuming and matches that with your profile and tries to show you a bunch of stuff, in TikTok’s case it's all videos, that you will want to sit around for and want to consume more of. And, um, Facebook is transforming its home screen to more of that model. It's not completely eliminating the posts from your friends and family, but they're going to be mixed in there with videos from people you've never heard of.

NIALA: And that's been really the success of TikTok for people who aren't familiar with it. That's how sticky it is, right. It kind of sucks you into the app because it's showing you things that they think you're gonna be interested in.

SCOTT: Absolutely. And it's the first social application really since probably Instagram and Snap that has actively challenged Facebook. Youth is always in the vanguard, right? And so the fact that TikTok has such a greater mind share among young users is particularly of concern to Facebook.

NIALA: Axios’ managing editor for tech Scott Rosenberg. Thanks, Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you so much.

In a moment: fears of invasion in Taiwan.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Tensions between China and Taiwan are continuing to escalate ahead of a potential visit to the island from House speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing would take "forceful measures" if the visit occurs and said that a military response was possible.

China has already more than doubled its incursions into air space near Taiwan over the past year. And after Russia invaded Ukraine, many in Taiwan say, they’re concerned about something similar happening to their country.

Axios’ Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian has recently relocated to Taiwan and participated in one of the many civilian defense training sessions that are currently taking place there. BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: Civil defense training teaches regular civilians how to help each other survive a crisis, whether that is bombing, invasion, a natural disaster, like an earthquake or a typhoon, it helps provide skills and training for things like packing a wound, putting on a tourniquet, or even lifting a concrete block off of someone who is lying underneath it. So that is what we learned on Saturday with an organization called Forward Alliance. That's a national security and defense think tank in Taiwan. They started holding these sessions this year. Originally they planned to launch in August, but after Russia's invasion of Ukraine demand for civil defense trainings in Taiwan skyrocketed, and they had more than a thousand people on the waiting list. And people are telling me that they're signing up because they're worried about Taiwan's future and about what China might do.

NIALA: Here's one participant Bethany spoke with, a young Taiwanese woman named Pei Zhen.

PEI ZHEN: I think the Russian war had a deep effect on some Taiwanese people. Before the war, people I talked to thought that if the Chinese communist party attacked us, we would just have to surrender. But after the war, I noticed this thinking changed.

NIALA: Now, the group Forward Alliance is holding civilian defense trainings for 500 to 600 people every month.

Thanks to Bethany Allen-Ebrahamian for this reporting, she covers China for Axios, from Taiwan.

POPE FRANCIS: I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.

NIALA: That was Pope Francis yesterday in Canada, at the site of a former residential school for indigenous children in Alberta. The visit to the home of four Cree nations was the first day in a weeklong “penitential” visit to Canada.

POPE FRANCIS: I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.

The Canadian government has called the government funded Christian schools, which existed for about a century, a form of cultural genocide. More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes to attend these schools. Mass graves have been found at some of them, where children were starved, beaten and sexually abused.

Cree Chief Wilton Littlechild, who is a survivor of the residential school system and now the commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada introduced Pope Francis and called for healing beyond yesterday’s ceremony.

WILTON LITTECHILD: We sincerely hope that our encounter this morning and the words you share with us will echo the true healing and real hope throughout many generations to come your holiness. Welcome to our land.

NIALA: The ceremony ended with traditional indigenous singer Jerry Saddleback, singing in Cree.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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