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Facebook is Making You Listen!

February 20, 2017

Last week Facebook announced some changes to its video platform, including a new setting that will allow sound to automatically play by default. At present, videos in your Facebook news feed are set to auto-play when you scroll, but without audio until you actively click the link. This will no longer be the case moving forward as Facebook is going to make you listen!

So, if your phone is not on silent, every video you scroll past will have an audio fade-in and fade-out function. This follows a comprehensive testing period from Facebook that began around August time last year. The social media platform now aims to move away from muting videos by default.

Facebook’s Monetising Mission

A large part of the platform’s recent growth can be credited to the sharing of popular video content online. The people working for the most commonly referenced book in the world are not slow to notice or capitalise on this trend either. In fact, the company has recently told its investors that they plan to ‘aggressively monetise that success’. So the network is making no bones about it! Video content is big money and massive marketing. Now the auto-play function of audio seems to be the next step in exploiting the revenue even further.

This is another alteration that will change the way in which we use the mobile app especially. A platform that was once ruled by text, photography and external links is now moving towards more of a visual and audio experience. This comes as no surprise really, given the success of other video sharing sites like Snapchat and YouTube. Is this what users want to see though? Do we want to see Facebook become more video-dominated or are we happy with the way it is?

There are of course a lot more questions to be asked, the most important of which we will address now.

Will Auto-Play Interrupt Your Music?

No. If you’re playing music through your device, the auto-play function of Facebook will not interrupt. Thank goodness, because that would be annoying! At all times, the Facebook setting will honour the sound setting of your phone, apparently.

Can You Turn Auto-Play Off?

We all like to have a cheeky scroll through Facebook in work sometimes, or in class etc. What if the auto-play function catches you unawares and the audio gives you away? You can avoid this by either turning your phone on silent/vibrate or you can turn the auto-play function off. It is not a mandatory feature – yet! In the settings panel, there will be a toggle option labelled something like ‘Videos in News Feed Start with Sound’. Flick that off if you do not wish to experience default auto-play audio.

Why Make Sound Play by Default?

This is a move that has been instigated by the mobile market for sure. More and more of us are using mobile and tablet devices to access Facebook, rather than desktop. The boffins at the book reckon that users can be kept more engaged, for longer periods of time, by turning sound on automatically. With Facebook Live rising in popularity too, this will pave the way for more live advertisements and promotions to play mechanically in your feed.

Bad News for Accessibility

When videos play silently in your news feed, you are not getting the full message. As a result, advertisers and promoters have been somewhat ‘forced’ to include subtitling on their videos. This enables them to still get the message across with moving video content, without the need for sound. This was and still is a huge benefit to impaired users, particularly the deaf. Having subtitled video content is perhaps one of the most beneficial side effects of our viewing habits when it comes to accessibility issues.

Promoters, advertisers and video sharing companies may not feel as obliged to provide subtitles now that Facebook is playing sound automatically. The recent amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, that pushes broadcasters to improve subtitling for on-demand content, will not matter much either. The new law change allows Ofcom the authority to set minimum standards and quotas for subtitling digital content. But these laws do not apply to Facebook and the majority of the platform’s videos hail from overseas anyway.

More to Come

This announcement will undoubtedly be the first of many as the Facebook team continue to develop their video offering. The one we all expect to see soon is the ability to continue watching a video whilst scrolling through your news feed. Will Facebook start to look more and more like YouTube as time goes by? Who knows. As The Buggles once said – video killed the radio star. It may also kill your chances of feed-scrolling secrecy if you forget to switch to silent!

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Ian Arnison-Phillips

Director at Content Juice
This piece has been written by Ian Arnison-Phillips. Ian is an experienced content marketer, author and creative writer. His specialisms are web content, blogging, PR and creative content.

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