When Facebook launched in 2004, it was an individual social profile directory. It has come a long way since.
Today, Facebook is essentially a live feed not only for individual life updates, but worldwide events.
Since the start, we’ve seen the addition of profiles and pages for businesses, interests and public figures, targeted advertising, and perhaps most important: the adoption of a “trending” list of news stories taking over the Internet.
On any given day, my newsfeed is mostly sponsored stories and headlines about celebrities and the latest social events unfolding around the world.
This isn’t news. This is the product of traditional news outlets trying to adapt to the millennial audience in a technological age.
Facebook is rising as a top online source for news and is diminishing the objectivity and integrity of traditional news organizations all at the same time.
As a social media giant, Facebook’s influence on its consumers has been impressive. The company recently shared its guidelines for what they want Facebook users to see on their newsfeeds moving forward, focusing on posts by friends, information, and entertainment.
These three characteristics provide a personalized—yet commercialized—feed of updates. This means that we are going to see less advertisements and sponsored posts, and more posts that align with Facebook’s original purpose: staying updated on our friends’ lives.
This is a smart move on Facebook’s end. For the first time in a long time, Facebook users will be able to use the outlet for its original purpose, with fewer distractions from brands and advertisers.
Now, in order for publishers and brands to gain traction on their posts, they must pay for sponsorship or make it to the list of trending stories.
No matter what, Facebook wins because the company will get money from organizations paying to use their platform, as well as benefit from more users interacting with the posts being shared.
People won’t stop using Facebook because there are fewer advertisements. But, this adjusted algorithm can also benefit the news organizations that have capitalized on Facebook advertising and posting, although many organizations, particularly small, local news outlets, may not think so.
For these underdogs, Facebook and other social media platforms have essentially given them free press and opportunities to be in the media spotlight with minimal effort.
The adjusted algorithm means that these organizations have to try harder to get their content seen by the audience they want.
And while the thought of working harder to get a higher viewing is probably less than welcomed, it means that these smaller outlets have the opportunity to create top quality stories that are worth reading, rather than stories that go viral for no real reason. This isn’t anything new to the news industry, but it is a quality that many outlets have lost.
So how has the newsfeed changed the news industry?
First off, Facebook has become the primary source for millennial news consumption, threatening Twitter as the top social media source for live updates. A 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of millennials get their news from Facebook, followed by CNN at 41 percent.
This is a significant statistic, which is why our newsfeeds have become so plagued by news stories and advertisements over the past few years.
In 2012, Facebook made the increase in advertisements from six per page to up to ten per page, creating an enormous opportunity for organizations of all kinds to target online audiences, share stories with ease and gain more traction.
Since 2014, Facebook has become its own news publisher with the addition of the “Trending” sidebar on every user’s home page. This section uses an algorithm that pulls the news stories with the top hits as well as each user’s interests and geographic location to produce top headlines.
This small section of the newsfeed is extremely powerful for both consumers and publishers, and could be the future of online news; however, it has come under some recent criticism, specifically with Gizmodo’s claim this past May that the algorithm and Facebook employees, known as “curators,” that pull these headlines were intentionally biased against conservative topics. Facebook has publicly denied all of these claims.
In a press release from Facebook on June 29, VP of Product Management, Adam Mosseri, stated, “We don’t favor specific kinds of sources- or ideas. Our aim is to deliver the types of stories we’ve gotten feedback that an individual person most wants to see.”
Facebook is consciously trying to personalize newsfeeds, which is great from a social media and entertainment aspect, but could therefore unintentionally provide a user with biased stories based on that particular person’s likes and online interactions. By reducing the ability for organizations to target specific audiences with their content, we may start to see a more objective forum for information.
Moving forward, news organizations should be wary of Facebook’s algorithms, but they shouldn’t discount Facebook’s future influence in the news industry. News organizations should never rely solely on social media to promote their stories, but should use social media to drive more traffic to their respective websites, television stations, and print publications.
While the algorithm may no longer be intentionally biased, Facebook still holds a lot of power in what stories are featured on their platform. Since the algorithm pulls top stories based on how many hits they get, publishers are inclined to produce stories that they believe will get the most hits. Because of this, we see more entertainment stories rather than informative or policy-based stories, simply because the social media culture favors entertainment value.
In Facebook’s defense, the Trending section does include filters for political, scientific, sports, and entertainment stories, but the stories that make the cut as trending always seem to have more of an entertaining twist to them.
Even worse, the headlines are just that—headlines.
If you click on a story to read more, there usually isn’t much content in the stories that are trending. Some people prefer these kinds of stories, especially coming from a social media platform.
Growing up with the Internet, millennials have been conditioned to favor entertainment over content, but it is possible to change this mentality now and for future generations. As a millennial, it’s scary to think that my entire generation is largely uninformed by the outlets we’ve come to rely on to inform us on a regular basis.
If 61 percent of millennials are getting their news from their Facebook newsfeeds, then this group is missing out on those dense, informational stories that aren’t getting enough hits to become trending.
Many publishers seem to be obligated to take advantage of Facebook as a means to promote their stories to a younger audience, but the most recent update to the algorithm creates an obstacle for so many outlets that have relied on the organic reach they used to benefit from.
The more Facebook alters its algorithms, the more publishers must adjust their social media strategy to maintain hits on their content, and this means finding the headlines that capture the greatest attention.
I have hope that this will convince news organizations to take a small step back to focusing on the news industry objective of informing the public, rather than trying to gain a moment of popularity with an entertaining story.
While Facebook relies on publishers to produce content and publishers rely on users to share the content, one thing is for certain: Facebook is ultimately in control over the news that its users are exposed to.
Even if Facebook wants to focus more on friends and family, news organizations will continue to use the platform to share their stories, whether that be through organic reach, or even by paying for sponsored advertising and promoted stories.
Facebook is an extremely clever platform that accomplishes multiple goals for both users and organizations worldwide. News organizations in particular should take advantage of this opportunity, so long as they are in it to promote the news rather than just bragging rights to the largest number of clicks on a story or views on a video.
Major news outlets should continue to produce quality stories over various mediums and create headlines that are equally catchy as the entertainment pieces, but instead drive traffic to informative pieces.
This is certainly easier said than done, but if outlets stop focusing on entertainment pieces for online traffic, consumers will have their attention drawn more toward the stories that actually impact the greater scheme of things.
As long as news organizations can regain their independence and partner with Facebook instead of compromising journalistic integrity for likes, both respective media sources can thrive in the ever-changing media world, and consumers will once again be informed by the outlets responsible for doing so.