Facebook, an updated algorithm and journalism

Facebook's algorithm changes have caused a debate for news organizations. (Photo: Pixabay)

Facebook’s algorithm changes have caused a debate for news organizations. (Photo: Pixabay)

Facebook this week announced plans to implement another change within its algorithm. Yet, these changes would have further implications on the social network’s relationship with journalism.

Facebook said it would be changing the algorithm to place more of a focus on content from a user’s friends and family, which as a result would see content from publishers and news organizations appear prominently less in other news feeds.

However, according to a report from The New York Times, concerns of traffic decline may be subsided if the traffic in question comes from individual users sharing and commenting on videos.

Adam Mosseri, the vice president of product management for Facebook’s News Feed, quoted in the Times, said connecting to friends and family was a top priority for the social network, a message that was also emphasized in a blog post written by Mosseri, and published by Facebook last Wednesday.

“The growth and competition in the publisher ecosystem is really, really strong,” Mosseri said. “We’re worried that a lot of people using Facebook are not able to connect to friends and family as well because of that.”

In a separate post, Lars Backstrom, the Engineering Director, said the social network did anticipate a decline in traffic from pages, though it was dependent on audience composition.

The news feed is seen by 1.65 billion users a month, according to the Times.

In the business of social media, journalism has been seen as two things — a commodity in the context of the ability for platforms to engage users, as well as the ability for news organizations to not just retain but also engage new audiences through these platforms. It has evolved as a win-win relationship despite the controversy that is approached when it comes to the algorithm.

Facebook still has value for news organizations despite these changes considering its vast audience. However, it is a time for news organizations to take caution as to how Facebook is used and what further implications such an update may have.

Facebook’s goal may be its ability to connect friends and family together, but alongside that connection comes the conversation about current affairs and other subjects that is curated through the platform. At the core of that conversation is the content from news organizations that has become a central feature of a user’s News Feed.

Indeed, for news organizations, Facebook is more than just an ability to curate a conversation and enhance the civil discourse. It is an ability to inform audiences and tailor content to their needs and wants, to create insightful and meaningful journalism around the world in new ways.

Though it is not wise for a news organization to write Facebook off the social strategy at this stage, it is a time to monitor its next steps, for the next move by the social network will have an affect far beyond its ability to increase its reach. It will affect a crucial, quintessential relationship it has with journalism, either for better or for worse.

But in the end, what matters the most are the people directly accessing content. Facebook needs to consider that in its next steps as this update is rolled out, and we ultimately have to consider how to respond to it, not just for ourselves and our own engagement strategies, but for the people that matter the most — our audience.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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