Facebook’s Move to Dial Back News Ratchets Up Drama

Facebook once again has found itself at the center of a media storm, following Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement of plans to shift its focus away from promoting news and business content and more toward emphasizing interactions from friends and family.

The shift follows more than a year of heavy criticism directed against Facebook. It has been blamed for failing to combat fake news on its website during the 2016 presidential election. In addition, concerns have been growing over mental health issues linked to spending too much time on social media, especially for children and young adults.

Further, publishers have complained that Facebook and Google have been hijacking their content and advertising dollars to the point that many digital media site valuations have nearly evaporated.

However, the change Facebook just announced represents a further blow to publishers, according to Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at Poynter.

The network will lose some short term users, but fall short of addressing some of the core concerns, he maintained.

“My own view is that the move is more of a copout than a solution on hate speech and truly fake news,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Facebook couldn’t find a way to differentiate that from quality journalism and tossed the baby out with the bath water.”

Facebook represents a huge market for content companies, with 1.37 billion daily active users as of September 2017, and 2.07 billion monthly active users.

About 67 percent of U.S. adults who participated in a Pew Research Study at the time said they got at least some of their news from Facebook.

For the first time ever, more than half of adults 50 and older reported getting most of their news from social media, the study found. That represented an increase of 10 percent over 2016 figures, when 45 percent of adults in that age group got their news from social media.

Zuckerberg announced the new direction for Facebook last week, in a post that touched on recent concerns that Facebook might cause addictive behavior and result in isolation, particularly among younger people.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well being,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Like Minds

Among the concerns voiced by critics — including former President Barack Obama — is that many social media users have tended to gravitate toward a single political viewpoint, boxing out those who don’t share the same ideas.

In the future, posts that are more likely to spark conversations with friends and family will be emphasized, said Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of news feed.

As a result, reach, watch time and referral traffic may decrease, he noted.

The changes will make it more difficult for content brands and businesses to break through to Facebook users, said Tania Yuki, CEO of Shareablee.

“Brands and media content companies are still welcome in this more intimate space, provided that their content enhances the time spent on Facebook and adds value to the experience of the average user,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“The onus is now on creators to think with that lens, rather than with the lens of purely driving business value for themselves,” Yuki added.

Think Outside the Box

The impact of Facebook’s latest move could be positive in the long term, suggested Jamie Spencer, senior vice president of Magid, “if it convinces publishers to reallocate resources currently creating and posting Facebook content towards initiatives that deliver high-quality, monetizable content.”

The amount of money invested in Facebook content now brings a questionable return, he told the E-Commerce Times, whereas if resources were reallocated toward premium video content for over-the-top or other distribution channels, consumers would get better content and publishers would see a stronger return.

Facebook’s shift comes about six weeks after Snap announced plans to separate news content from personal posts by friends and family.

Snap late last year said it would create side-by-side feeds with Stories featuring original news and creative content on the right and Stories from friends on the left.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

E-Commerce Times Channels