After months of statements about limiting the visibility of news content in its news feed, Facebook announced today it will grant 50 publishers of its choosing the opportunity “to label their stories as breaking news on Facebook.”
It’s unclear from the announcement which publishers will be granted the privilege and which will be excluded. It’s also unclear whether the “breaking news” label will be a signal which influences rankings in the news feed.
The decision is likely to prompt a reaction on the part of its users about the extent of Facebook’s influence over what is or is not deemed newsworthy, particularly after Gizmodo, in 2016, reported allegations made by a former conservative Facebook employee that it “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers.”
The decision is also likely to be of interest to lawmakers and publishers, particularly as Facebook, alongside other technology firms, has been under intense scrutiny over allegations Russian firms utilized its platform to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election and Brexit referendum.
A Facebook spokesperson told Redcode in November last year that “as part of this test, we’ll be evaluating if breaking news stories should be incorporated into ranking,” however Facebook’s latest announcement doesn’t address this factor.
Facebook has been testing the new feature in news feed with a small group of local and national publishers in the U.S.
Despite failing to address whether the label will be a ranking factor, it has reported that stories labelled with a breaking news tag on average receive 4 percent more clicks, 7 percent more likes, 4 percent more comments and 11 percent more shares.
The announcement also comes in the midst of reports that publishers are struggling to cope with a significant decrease in referral traffic from Facebook.
Mashable, one of the world’s most popular social news websites, was sold to Ziff Davis late last year for a knockdown price of $50 million, after being valued at $250 million one year previously.
Likewise, LittleThings, another popular social news publisher, was forced to shut down at the end of February stating changes to Facebook’s news feed had cost it 75 percent of its traffic.
Shareaholic also released a study earlier this year which signified referral traffic from Facebook as a percentage of total referrals dropped from 30.93 percent in the second half of 2016 to 18.16 percent in the second half of 2017.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has previously announced that changes made to its platform have resulted in users spending 50 million fewer hours on the platform.