Facebook is planning to launch a number of audio-only products and features in the coming months, including a short-form feed called “Soundbites.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke at length about the new products in a live interview with Casey Newton as part of the launch of the Sidechannel Discord collective.
Zuckerberg spoke at length about Facebook’s audio-based ambitions during the interview, praising the medium as “organic.” He believes it deserves treatment as a “first-class” medium, with infinite applications at intersections with various interest groups. He’s particularly invested in how audio-only material can be consumed while multi-tasking or doing other work.
Soundbites, which has yet to be formally announced by Facebook, is just one audio-focused product coming our way in the next few months. The company hopes to fold these new audio features into its current apps and networks.
Zuckerberg believes audio will help creators and communities thrive in new ways on Facebook. But the platform’s longstanding moderation issues do not bode well for audio-only products, which are even more difficult to moderate than text-based ones.
Snackable audio — Zuckerberg spent the most time during today’s interview speaking about Facebook’s short-form audio product, which is set to be called Soundbites. He says Soundbites will be much like TikTok-clone Reels, though without the video aspect. Zuckerberg says the hope is people will use the feature to share jokes, insight, and other “pithy things.”
Users will be able to record audio right in the app and then play around with various tweaks like distortion, sound effects, and even quality upscaling enabled by machine learning. Unlike Reels or TikTok, you’ll be able to let the feed play continuously in the background, almost like a stitched-together Frankenstein’s-monster of a podcast.
Live audio — Facebook is also planning to introduce a live audio room feature in the coming months. Zuckerberg referred to these as “audio rooms,” though it’s unclear whether or not that’s the feature’s official name. He says live audio is a “really interesting trend” in that it can be adapted to just about any interest area.
Zuckerberg thinks the live audio rooms will be very popular with groups and communities.
And podcasts, too — Zuckerberg also spoke about some sort of podcast integration that’s coming to Facebook. On this front, he provided the least detail, though the feature is also expected in the coming months.
The podcast integration will include creator tools and an in-feed discover tool where you can play podcasts while you keep scrolling. Zuckerberg also hinted at a new partnership with Spotify that’s code-named “Project Boombox.” Some sort of built-in music player, it seems.
But the moderation — With each of these new features comes a behemoth question: can Facebook actually moderate all this increased audio content? Moderating text features is difficult enough; Facebook has struggled with that process for years and years. Moderating audio, especially live audio, is nearly impossible.
Newton asked Zuckerberg about this problem during today’s interview. Zuckerberg’s answer: “We have a little bit of practice at this.” He cited Facebook’s impressive suite of AI-powered moderation tools and the luck Facebook has had thus far in moderating live video.
Experienced or not, moderating audio content is likely to prove a fresh hell for Facebook. It’s all too possible that bad actors (of whom there are many on Facebook) will use the audio filters to continue spreading misinformation and curate rally calls for violence.
“A lot of the time you want to be on the side of free expression,” Zuckerberg said about audio moderation. He hopes empowering people to share their views in this new format will further foster community and change the world. We’re hopeful those changes aren’t for the worse.