Facebook’s previous efforts at soft censorship failed when it found that people shared articles flagged as ‘fake news’ even more.
In a move that is set to infuriate news organizations that are not deemed “trustworthy”, Facebook is set to introduce “sweeping changes” to its newsfeed as early as next week, prioritizing trustworthy sites and removing “clickbait” and low quality news publishers, while promoting posts from friends and family, the WSJ reports.
Under its new approach, Facebook would evaluate parameters such as public polling about news outlets, and whether readers are willing to pay for news from particular publishers. Such variables would inform its algorithm that determines which publishers’ posts are pushed higher in the feed, one of the people said.
It is not known how Facebook will decide which publications are deemed trustworthy.
The move would thrust Facebook into an even more active role in deciding what content is acceptable on its site, in other words censoring content it deems inappropriate while promoting news outlets that are ideologically aligned with the organization.
While the WSJ writes that Facebook hasn’t decided whether to proceed with the shift, and it may choose not to do so, the FT disagrees and reports that the world’s largest social network will unveil the change imminently, according to people briefed on the plans, hoping to differentiate between salacious content and quality news. “Zuckerberg has finally realized that not all news is equal,” said one publisher – clearly on the promoted sight of “equal” – briefed on the plans.
While Facebook will try to make the newsfeed a place for personal sharing and in-depth discussions – similar to Snapchat – and move other content from pages and publishers to a separate space within the app, the move is widely expected to infuriate news organizations which are not deemed trustworthy or high quality by the site.
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Meanwhile, the change to the algorithm is sure to have a dramatic impact – whether positive or negative – on the revenue of virtually all news organization who now rely almost exclusively on Facebook for inbound traffic referral.
Publishers have become increasingly reliant on Facebook as more and more news is consumed on the app. They may see traffic drop if they are moved to an area of the app which users end up not visiting.
Why now? The dramatic change comes after Mark Zuckerberg set a goal for the year to focus on fixing the important issues about Facebook’s role in the world.
“Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.
While the transformation is seen as an attempt to increase trust in the social app, which has suffered from a reputation for fake news since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it will likely backfire: in December, Facebook ditched its first attempt at soft censorship when it removed its “fake news flag” when it found that people shared the flagged articles even more.
Ironically, the newsfeed overhaul is also said to be “an attempt to encourage more sharing and personal connecting, amid a backlash with many people worrying about social media sucking up time and damaging users’ mental health” according to the FT.
In reality, it will only succeed in further alienating an already deeply polarized American population.
Yet while it remains to be seen what impact on Facebook, or Zuckerberg’s 2020 presidential ambitions, this latest foray into censorship has, the biggest losers are clear.
Last year, the company tested separating friends and family posts from those posted by businesses and publishers. It created a tab called “Explore” for those other posts in six countries including Sri Lanka, Slovakia and Cambodia. What happened next? Publishers in those countries complained that traffic fell dramatically.
At the time, Adam Mosseri, head of newsfeed, said Facebook currently had no plans to roll this test out further in other countries and said it was unfortunate that some had “mistakenly made that interpretation.” It now appears that this “test” is about to apply to everyone.
Top Photo | The logo of the social network “Facebook” is reflected in the pupil of an eye. (Photo: Joerg Koch/DAPD)