Even as it faces a boycott from major brands spurred on by far-left activists who allege that the platform isn’t censoring enough content, Facebook has rolled out another change to its News Feed algorithm that seems to benefit corporate publishers.
The News Feed is the constantly-updated stream of posts that Facebook users see when they log in. Posts do not appear in users’ timeline chronologically, but via a set of standards created by the platform that determines what they see and when they see it. Being demoted in users’ news feeds can be the kiss of death for a publisher that relies on Facebook traffic.
The latest change to the prioritization of publishers’ stories in users’ News Feeds was announced yesterday in an innocuously-titled announcement, “Prioritizing Original News Reporting on Facebook.”
The two main changes introduced by Facebook are the promotion of “original reporting” and “transparent authorship,” meaning news stories where the author’s identity is readily available via a byline on the article or staff page on the publisher’s website.
Facebook offers a vague definition how it will define original reporting, saying “we do this by looking at groups of articles on a particular story topic and identifying the ones most often cited as the original source” – begging the questions, “cited by whom?”
However, Facebook goes on to say “defining original reporting and the standards for it are complex, so we continue to work with publishers and academics to refine and improve this approach over time,” without giving further details. This suggests its rules and standards will continue to shift over time.
Facebook does not specify who is in charge of defining “original reporting,” or what its current definition is beyond the most oft-cited work. It also fails to take into account that some sources, especially conservative media, are often denied citation by the mainstream media due to ideological differences.
While these criteria have the appearance of neutrality, they are likely going to hurt independent and alternative media. The emphasis on “original reporting” means that mainstream publishers with large budgets that are able to send reporters out to gather live footage or pursue original stories — even if those stories are pointless and/or malicious, like CNN sending a camera crew to dox a Florida grandma who ran a pro-Trump Facebook.
Independent bloggers and journalists who don’t have the funding or resources of mainstream news, and provide an alternative perspective on stories in the mainstream news, will not be promoted, even if their perspective or interpretation of the story is original.
Anonymous bloggers, once the backbone of the online media ecosystem, are also going to suffer under Facebook’s new regime. Many bloggers have day jobs and blog as hobby, using pseudonyms to protect their offline life and employment from unnecessary controversy. Facebook’s new system penalizes anonymity.
According to Facebook’s detailed briefing on the News Feed, exceptions will be made for anonymous reporters in authoritarian countries where they might face consequences for their reporting. Yet western societies are also hostile places for dissident opinions. “Cancel culture” and “public shaming” have become common phrases in the west, describing the practice of trying to harm a person’s reputation or career over controversial opinions or behavior. Facebook’s new system leaves no protection for them.
Facebook says its new algorithm was “built with feedback from news publishers and academic experts,” without naming who those publishers and “experts” are. Many prestigious academic institutions dedicated to studying online media, like the Oxford Internet Institute, are brazenly biased against conservatives. When Facebook appointed legal “experts” to its “Oversight Board” which will hear appeals on banned accounts and content, nearly all of them turned out to be leftists.
Facebook tries to reassure publishers that the changes won’t impact them a great deal. “We anticipate most news publishers won’t see significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of these updates,” says Facebook’s announcement.
Publishers like Breitbart News will be watching closely to see if that is really the case.
Are you an insider at Google, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or any other tech company who wants to confidentially reveal wrongdoing or political bias at your company? Reach out to Allum Bokhari at his secure email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.