And now, the newsfeed: the best takes on the recent Facebook changes

Like a drug dealer cutting off supply to its addicted clients, Facebook once again pulled the rug out from underneath publishers and brands as part of its ongoing mission to ‘make the world a better place‘. The main shift, which has been happening in various forms for a few years, is a newsfeed tweak that will prioritise engaging content from friends and family, rather than news from media companies or brands. So what does it mean for publishers, brands, agencies and the world in general? Here are some of the best takes on the issue. 

Mark Zuckerberg (and head of newsfeed Adam Mosseri) talked a lot about ‘well-being’ and ‘bringing people together’ with these most recent changes and put news and content from brands even further into the naughty corner. 

“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness. But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other … Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.

On The Outline, founder Josh Topolsky, a long-time critic of the media’s reliance on new tech trinkets as saviours, says it could be a good thing for news – and the rarest of things in the tech world: a do-over. He believes Facebook is more dependent on news than it thinks and that the platform is nothing without publishers taking time to put good things on it. 

“And maybe this time, we will all avoid blowing it by not giving the genius tech titans every single thing they ask for, while asking for nothing in return. Maybe this time, publications won’t all genuflect when Mark Zuckerberg whispers “real-time serendipity” and we’ll remember that what we write and say is what people actually want, not Mark’s platform. Maybe this time, when Facebook tells news organizations to fire 40 writers and hire 40 video producers, everyone will realize that the experiment isn’t always worth it just because people better at the internet than us tell us so. Maybe we’ll all wise up and… get better at the internet.”

On Medium, journalism professor Gabriel Kahn reckons Facebook folk are in a very thick filter bubble and dissects the lies they are telling themselves – and us. 

“As the algorithm tweaks fall into place, and news publishers stand by as their audience plummets, Mosseri concedes: “there’s understandably going to be a lot of anxiety … it’s always a set of trade offs, we do the best we can with the information at hand.” (You possess ALL the information, by the way.) These are not words of someone who sees the news media as partners but as pawns. A post is a post is a post.”

Like Topolsky, Slate’s Will Oremus reckons it’s a good thing that Facebook is stepping back from the news business (a separate podcast also discusses why Facebook and “Meaningful Interactions” Don’t Mix)

“Over the past five years, Facebook has dramatically reshaped the news: how it’s reported, how it’s framed, how it’s distributed, and how people read or watch it. The effect has been to sever the public’s trust in the media, stoke political divisions, and sow dysfunction in democratic societies—all while enriching Facebook itself … It might also sound like a disaster for journalism and for democratic discourse that Facebook is once again moving the goalposts on the media companies that have come to depend on it. But that, it isn’t: This is exactly the shock the media need to get back to the business of serving their readers, rather than pandering to them.

As media companies and brands move down the pecking order, individuals appear to be taking precedence, and, as Shareen Pathak writes on Digiday, that could be a boon for influencer marketing. 

“Organically speaking, influencers rank better than brands in the news feed, and deprioritizing news can be favorable for influencers. And the new algorithm is expected to mostly punish clickbait-style language, which means brands will need to make meaningful and “authentic” content, which creates room for more influencer partnerships.”

On Adweek, David Cohen writes about the response in the US to the changes. 

As one of the respondents said: “The days of organic reach are definitely over. Businesses already have to invest in ads on Facebook to get their content in front of their audiences. But there will be fewer opportunities to buy ads, so the prices will be higher.” And another: “Typically, up to one third of publisher referral traffic comes from Facebook. In the very short-term, publishers will need to back-fill that audience urgently. However, publishers are resilient and certainly used to the capricious nature of the media industry. More than ever, media companies are sensitive to being dependent any one source of traffic. Instead, they are building their own loyalty with their audiences. This is true across editorial categories.”

Closer to home, Mumbrella’s Zoe Samios checked in with Australian community and the consensus from publishers that are heavily reliant on social traffic was basically: Facebook was already making them pay to access their audience, so they’ll adapt. 

“For years, publishers have benefited from Facebook’s biggest asset: reach. They’ve desperately plugged articles into the site’s news feed in the hope of attracting audiences, with little return on revenue or proof their efforts were even effective. Hindsight suggests this was one of the publishing industry’s biggest vulnerabilities, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reaffirming publishers’ fears last week, telling them they were not a priority for the tech giant anymore … Publishers have clearly been worried – and to an extent aware – that Facebook was going to make a change to its algorithm. Fortunately, they had already begun to prepare … Last year, Zuckerberg said the technology giant would focus on community, founded through ‘Groups’. An article in Digiday this week reported publishers such as The New York Times, Bloomberg News and BuzzFeed are using these groups to grow subscriptions and promote particular areas of content or podcasts, in the case of the NYT..”

On The New York Times, Noam Cohen writes that Facebook doesn’t like what it sees when it looks in the mirror. 

“The public faces the unsatisfying question: Is it better to suffer an engineer’s neglect or an engineer’s concern? … Turns out, an enlightened, socially engaged Facebook has a similar outlook as the amoral, audience-seeking Facebook. Each sees connecting online as key to the good life.” 

On Nieman Lab, Joshua Benton chronicles Facebook’s relationship with the news business and summarises with a slide he used in a presentation: “I kinda think Facebook wishes it wasn’t in the news business.” He believes Facebook news consumers are fickle. 

“People forget that the “News Feed” wasn’t originally meant to be about news, at least as editors define it. Facebook (and its sidekick Instagram) today have literally billions of people creating #content, things their friends want to see or read, for free; meanwhile, real news was just one hassle after another. Publishers complaining about money! Conservatives complaining about bias! Its own employees complaining about electing Donald Trump! Facebook had become the single largest distributor of human attention in the history of the world, and it seemed like professionally produced journalism was almost more trouble than its worth … For publishers who have come to rely on traffic from Facebook — which for some still drives the majority of their traffic; for many others, 30 or 40 percent — this is awful news. It’s especially bad for those who have made a “pivot to video” (which was always really a pivot to Facebook), praying that some alchemy would soon turn a gazillion autoplay video views into money, underpants-gnome style … My strong suspicion is that the overwhelming majority of users will barely notice a difference, and that an even more overwhelming majority will do nothing to change their off-Facebook news habits to make up for the loss. People who relied on the vagaries of the Facebook News Feed to get their news were never strong candidates to become assertive, forward-leaning, money-paying news consumers. They were the instantiation of that famous line from an old Brian Stelter story: If the news is that important, it will find me. If the news stops finding them, I doubt many will start hunting for it.” 

And, while it’s not related specifically to this news, it’s always good to remember this quote from Wieden + Kennedy’s Martin Wiegel: 

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