Facebook’s Latest Changes Will Significantly Impact Small Publishers

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Though There’s a Caveat

Amid a barrage of criticism over its lacklustre approach to pulling the plug on ‘fake news’ articles displayed via its News Feed algorithm, Mark Zuckerberg has announced a major overhaul to what you can expect to see in the future. Though small, constant tweaks that placed an increasing emphasis on its Watch offering now seem more strategic than first met the eye.

Facebook’s CEO wrote that “meaningful social interaction,” namely content produced by user’s family and friends will take precedent over videos, posts and photos shared by businesses and media outlets.

“The balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do – help us connect with each other,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the change. “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.”

The announcement comes just a week after his 2018 personal challenge, a pledge to focus on fixing many of the issues that blighted Facebook in the year prior. The 14-year-old company has been criticised for isolating users in filter bubbles, facilitating the spread of misinformation, not halting the meddling of foreign interference in elections, and finally, creating an ecosystem that looks to exploit attention.

Zuckerberg said that “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. We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.”

Publishers, non-profits, small businesses and many other groups who rely on the social network to reach people are likely to impact negatively. Gaining the upper hand? Friends, family, and Facebook Watch.

Indeed, more will be unravelled over time, but reports suggest Facebook hopes to change our definition of what watching video through the service looks like. Right now there are too many short, viral videos that last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.

Behind closed doors, Facebook has been throwing around big budgets to attract even bigger players to produce serialised, scripted programmes that typically run from four or five minutes to much longer. These will get priority over cat videos. To some degree, I am happy about that.

It falls in line with announcements from December 2017 where Facebook made updates to “prioritise videos in the news feed that people either seek out or return to watch from the same publisher or creator week after week.” Similarly, the Discover tab inside the Watch section will also prioritise shows that get people to come back and watch new episodes on a regular basis.

Phil Smith, Director General of ISBA told us they will “welcome any changes that result in the public feeling less bombarded by poor quality advertising and having to feel less wary about what is being presented in feeds. However, more detail is needed.”

Facebook reps have said that posts from “reputable publishers” will still be displayed prominently but failed to comment on what they define as reputable, or even estimate how traffic would be impacted.

Naturally, you would imagine publishers’ ability to reach audiences directly through the news feed will suffer dramatically.

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