Will Facebook Destroy Online News?

Ten years ago you would have found this article by clicking on a link on a blog. Five years ago you might have stumbled on it through Google. Three years ago you would have discovered it through Facebook.

Next year, you might not be able to find it at all.

Facebook is testing a major change in how it presents information. It is testing a new system where content from news organizations wouldn’t appear in the main Facebook feed. Instead, those posts would be relegated to a separate feed called the “Explore Feed.”

Facebook launched the Explore Feed for its sites in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala and Cambodia in mid-October.

The impact on local media was felt almost immediately. A social media rep for Slovakian newspaper Denník N wrote that since the test launched, the 60 largest Slovak news organizations have seen four times fewer Facebook interactions (likes, comments and shares) than before.

In a statement, Facebook said that they are fiddling with feeds to “work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful.” They continued: “People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from pages.”

There’s no reason a news story would hold less meaning than a post made by a friend or family member. Sure, we love our family and friends and have at best mixed feelings about mixed media outlets. But our family and friends post boring shit about their kids and their vacations. It’s content that inherently lacks meaning. News stories are about things that are important or at least interesting. By their very nature, they have far more potential to convey meaning.

Facebook released a blog post claiming they “currently have no plans to roll this test out further.” But that doesn’t mean the underlying idea is dead by any means.

It makes too much sense for Facebook to promote personal posts over news for them to stop. After all, personal posts are easier to monetize than news stories. Given a choice, almost any advertiser in the world would want their product featured next to a series of pleasant family pictures than, say, a New York Times story about drone bombing in Yemen or sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. And keep in mind Facebook’s unquenchable thirst for personal data. Posts from friends and family reveal far more about you and your personal network than shared news posts.

The idea that Facebook would promote personal posts to more effectively spy on people seems cynical. But some have guessed at an even more cynical motivation: they want publishers to pay to be seen. Mashable noted that the separate feeds mean Facebook’s main feed is no longer a free playing field for publishers and feared that publishers would have to pay to get back into the News Feed.