SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook’s latest News Feed update could be bad for online publishers — and good news for users who want more cute cat and baby photos.
Facebook announced Wednesday it is limiting the amount of content from Pages, or the public profile created for brands, celebrities and media publishers a user follows. The News Feed will feature more posts from friends and family instead of posts from news companies.
Maintaining a relevant and interesting News Feed is important to satisfying users, said Adam Mosseri, vice president for product management at Facebook. Many users, especially those with many connections, told the service important posts from close friends often do not appear on their News Feed, which prompted the company to introduce this new upgrade.
“Stories in News Feed are ranked — so that people can see what they care about first, and don’t miss important stuff from their friends,” Mosseri said in a statement. “One of our most important jobs is getting this ranking right.”
Lars Backstrom, engineering director at Facebook, acknowledged the update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some public profiles, especially those not receiving many shares or interactions. This could mean companies using Facebook to distribute their content, like media publishers, could see a decline in reads.
Publishers and news outlets, who rely on Facebook users to click on their content and generate ad revenue, may suffer the most with the change. Media sites reported more than 40% of their web traffic came from Facebook, according to analytics firm Parse.ly, while 30% of U.S. adults get their news directly from Facebook, Pew Research Center reported.
The change may not even be beneficial for Facebook users if fewer people are sharing personal posts, as one report maintains. Sharing of personal news — rather than news articles or Internet memes — fell 21% year over year as of mid-2015, according to tech news site The Information. Facebook has said that, in contrast, overall sharing has remained similar to levels in prior years.
Users who do choose to like and follow media companies usually do so because they want to see the content, said Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at Northwestern University.
Gordon said Facebook’s News Feed algorithm could treat online profiles of news outlets differently than they would celebrities or other public organizations — that way users can enjoy news articles without being bombarded by other posts.
Since publishers use social media to generate a large chunk of their revenue, Facebook still needs to be more transparent about their algorithms for media publishers to know exactly how their posts are being shown to users, Gordon said.
“There is a reason to treat publishers’ pages differently from other brands pages,” Gordon said. “I feel Facebook pulled a bait and switch because when they first allowed you to like a publishers page, I think the clear message was ‘like this page and we will keep you informed when we have something interesting that we are publishing,’ and Facebook upset that apple cart very quickly.”
Facebook also shared their News Feed Values with users to be transparent on changes. The values include connecting people with posts of family and friends first, while also entertaining and providing informational content from their liked Pages.
“We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about,” Mosseri said in statement. “We are in the business of connecting people and ideas — and matching people with the stories they find most meaningful.”
Facebook recently came under fire for a lack of transparency when choosing stories for Trending Topics. After a former company employee claimed those who work on the Trending Topics feature deliberately did not promote conservative viewpoints, Facebook made changes to the feature and met with conservative leaders to address the issue.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg assured users Facebook is a “platform for all ideas” and promotes all political viewpoints.
“We believe the world is better when people share from different backgrounds and with different ideas all have the power to share their thoughts and experiences,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post about Trending Topics. “That’s what makes social media unique.”