Yesterday we highlighted an article written by the Chicago Tribune’s Deputy Editor for Digital News, Kurt Gessler, which provided a fairly compelling set of facts to suggest that Facebook’s ‘fake news’ filter was suppressing the distribution of articles from media sources which undoubtedly consider themselves “legitimate new outlets” (with the definition of ‘legitimate’ left solely to the discretion of Facebook execs, of course).
As it turns out, the Chicago Tribune was not alone as Gessler’s article prompted a whole host of digital publishers to come forward with similar stories of traffic destruction. Per Digiday:
Facebook’s news feed algorithm changes have been part of publishing reality for many years. But to Matt Karolian, director of audience engagement at The Boston Globe, “last month was probably the worst we’ve had in reach in about a year. The fact everyone else is seeing it is a little bit troubling.”
Aysha Khan said Facebook reach has also been sliding at the Religion News Service, where she’s social media editor.
“Reach spiked in the summer, and we started hitting 15, 25K reach on bigger posts that were polarizing,” Khan said. “It wasn’t just political posts, but any kind of interviews. Anything that had potential to get a big reaction got a big reaction. But then we noticed that kind of stopped, and by January, it was just gone. Now we’re worse off than we were to start with.”
The change has happened even as RNS has been doing more video, including live video, and photos, things that Facebook has encouraged. Khan said RNS is still trying, though, with plans for more regularly scheduled live video and videos generally.
@kurtgessler This looks somewhat familiar to me as well. It's not just you.
— rob blatt (@robblatt) April 19, 2017
and Chicago Magazine also corroborated the Tribune’s data.
— Bettina Chang (@bechang8) April 18, 2017
“In my mind, we’re kind of at the mercy of the algorithm,” Khan said. “But there’s a lot of stories that are getting underwhelming responses that readers can’t even see.
Of course, we would argue that any business model which relies on Facebook for distribution is fundamentally flawed. That said, we have to admit that the irony of Facebook’s ‘fake news’ crusade ensnaring some of the nation’s most recognizable, elitist mainstream media outlets is, to the say the least, humorous.
* * *
For those who missed our original post on the topic, see below:
Back in December we wrote about the efforts of Facebook to combat the spread of “fake news” over social media with the introduction of a filter intended to flag ‘fake’ content so that users wouldn’t haven’t to go through the hassle of critically analyzing information on their own. As we noted at the time, it was a genius plan, except for one small issue: who determines what is considered “fake news” and how exactly do they draw those conclusions? From our prior post (see “Facebook Launches Campaign To Combat “Fake News”“):
The first problem, however, immediately emerges because as NBC notes, “legitimate news outlets won’t be able to be flagged”, which then begs the question who or what is considered “legitimate news outlets”, does it include the likes of NYTs and the WaPos, which during the runup to the election declared on a daily basis, that Trump has no chance of winning, which have since posted defamatory stories about so-called “Russian propaganda news sites”, admitting subsequently that their source data was incorrect, and which many consider to be the source of “fake news”.
Also, just who makes the determination what is considered “legitimate news outlets.”
Now, it seems as though the first confirmed victim of Facebook’s ‘fake news’ crusade may be none other than the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper that undoubtedly considers itself a “legitimate news outlet.”
The discovery was highlighted in an article written by the Chicago Tribune’s own Deputy Editor for Digital News, Kurt Gessler, who noted that a curious thing happened back in December when Facebook first changed up its algorithms to target fake news, namely their traffic crashed. Per the chart below, the typical Tribune post went from attracting the interest of 30-35k people down to 15-20k people in a matter of months.
Meanwhile, the number of Tribune articles shared over Facebook that reached less than 10,000 viewers (i.e. the “duds”) skyrocketed while the number of highly successful articles, those reaching 50,000+ people, simultaneously plunged.
So, either the Chicago Tribune suddenly started producing a lot of garbage that no one wanted to read, which just happened to coincide with the implementation of Facebook’s new “fake news” algo, or the media outlet was pumping out content that Facebook suddenly figured to fit the definition of ‘fake’.
Certainly, the issue couldn’t be attributed to a loss of followers….
…or less content creation.
Perhaps Facebook’s algos are better at identifying “fake news” than we thought.