Facebook explains News Feed test as publishers freak out

Facebook is telling publishers to relax about a test it’s conducting that separates content into two news feeds.

The test, being done in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala and Cambodia, puts news and other promoted content in a different feed from posts by Facebook users’ friends. It set off speculation that Facebook will soon start charging publishers and businesses to reach audiences on the world’s largest social network.

“There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore,” Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed at Facebook, wrote in a blog post Monday. “Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation — but that was not our intention.”

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In Slovakia, where the test began rolling out Thursday, a newspaper journalist told the Guardian that “the reach of several Facebook pages fell on Thursday and Friday by two-thirds compared to previous days.” The Guardian also cited figures from an analytics company that were in line with those numbers.

Facebook has not yet returned a request for comment about how many anxious publishers contacted the company after news of the testing.

“Can’t wait for Facebook’s potential newsfeed changes to force media companies to pivot to bankruptcy,” tweeted BuzzFeed UK political editor Jim Waterson.

The freakout underscores how dependent news publishers and other businesses have become on Facebook, which said earlier this summer that it now has 2 billion monthly active users.

Industry watchers have long warned of Facebook’s outsized influence on the news business, especially as more and more people get their news from social networks. A Pew Research survey published last month found that about 45 percent of U.S. adults are getting news on Facebook.

Because of this, news publishers have lapped up every tool Facebook has rolled out, partnered with the Silicon Valley tech giant on initiatives, even trained their employees to create content specifically for the platform. They do this to try to keep up with Facebook’s continuing changes to its news algorithms, which keep publishers constantly guessing about how to maximize their reach.

Matti Littunen, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis, told the Guardian that if Facebook expanded the test, it could be devastating to new media publishers. “The biggest hits will be to the likes of BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and Business Insider, who create commoditized content aiming for the biggest reach,” he said.

But other news media are fighting for their share of ad revenue, too.

A tweet by Katherine Griwert, audience engagement editor at Frontline, the PBS program: “Was so inspired at a @facebook Journalism Project meet-up last month… And now this.”

In his blog post, Facebook’s Mosseri insists the company is conducting the test simply because “people tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family.”

But some suspect there’s more to it than that.

Writer, former Wall Street trader and women’s advocate Amy Siskind tweeted: “Every few years we shift how we consume news. If FB does this, will be beginning of their end. Greed.”

 

Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces a News Feed redesign in 2013 at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

 

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