Facebook announced a suite of new changes to its video platform today, including a new setting that will autoplay videos with the sound turned on by default. This change means that, if your phone is not set to silent and you haven’t disabled the feature in Facebook’s mobile settings panel, every video in the News Feed will have audio fading in as you scroll past it. The switch from muting videos by default follows a multi-month testing period that first surfaced last August.
Facebook clarified to The Verge that sound from its videos will not interrupt music from Apple Music, Spotify, or any other mobile audio source. Dan Rose, Facebook’s vice president of partnerships, also stressed that the company is trying not to be user-hostile with the change. “We’re going to honor the sound settings on your phone,” he said today at Recode’s Code Media conference. “If sound is on your phone, we’ll default to sound on rather than off.”
The change raises all sorts of questions, like whether unsuspecting Facebook users will be caught scrolling through the News Feed at a meeting or in class. “Well a few years ago when we started autoplay it was very new to people,” Rose said in response to potential pitfalls. “Now they’re pretty conscious” of how it works, he added. (In other words, make sure you set your phone to vibrate if you’re trying to sneak a peek at your feed in a sensitive situation.) Facebook says the feature can be turned off by toggling the “Videos in News Feed Start With Sound” option in the settings panel.
The company hopes that by turning on sound automatically, it can keep more users engaged for longer with video content on its platform. For the past couple of years, Facebook has been transforming its social network into a destination for video, both recorded and live streamed. Video is now a core focus of the company, dominating how it invests resources into new features and controlling every facet of the main app’s design, from the camera to the share option.
By autoplaying videos by default, and now by turning the sound on, Facebook is trying to further reframe the context of how people use its app. For instance, everyone expects a YouTube video to play on its own, with the sound turned on, when they click an appropriate link. Facebook would like its users to think of video on its platform in much the same way, where opening the app is as more of an audio and visual experience than one governed by text, photos, and links. The company, however, has to reckon with how its vision for the platform competes with the reality of how users prefer to use it.