If you’ve noticed a conspicuous lack of news articles and TV clips in your Facebook News Feed recently, it’s not just you. On Wednesday, the social network announced that it would be tweaking its prioritization algorithms to push posts by friends, family, and “those you interact with most” over shares from less relevant Facebook connections.
Specifically, the new News Feed ranking will favor content you’ve signaled “is important to you.” Posts topically or tonally similar to ones you’ve marked “see first” in the past will always appear above stories and photos from folks you’ve “unfollowed” and hidden,” for instance. And more broadly speaking, pics and posts from people you’ve designated as “priority” will bubble to the surface more frequently. “If you tend to like photos from your sister,” wrote Facebook Vice President Adam Mosseri in a blog post, “we’ll start putting her posts closer to the top of your feed so you won’t miss what she posted while you were away.”
Pages, which allow businesses, brands and organizations to share their stories and connect with people, aren’t getting the boot from your News Feed entirely, though. Instead, they’ll be ranked according to how subjectively “entertaining” and “informative” they are. News about a celebrity you follow closely, happenings around your hometown, or a recipe from a favorite chef might occasionally appear alongside shares from your closest friends. And within those personalized niches, Facebook said it will rank content considered “genuine” more highly than stories that might be construed as “misleading, sensational, and spammy.” Said Mosseri, “Our aim is to deliver the types of stories we’ve gotten feedback that an individual person wants to see. When people see content they are interested in, they are more likely to spend time on News Feed and enjoy their experience.”
It’s not the first major change Facebook has made to News Feed. Back in 2010, it made an effort to reduce game notifications like those from Zynga’s Farmville. And in 2015, it debuted a system that gave posts by friends prime placement and cut down on the number of hoaxes in in feeds. But those efforts haven’t been been enough, apparently. “We’ve heard from our community that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about,” said Mosseri.”Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places, and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook.”
The forthcoming tweaks won’t favor certain viewpoints over others, Facebook made sure to emphasize. The social network became embroiled in controversy earlier this year following accusations stemming from a Gawker report, since largely discredited, that the human team responsible for curating its Trending Topics section — the widget of personalized news that lives in the right-hand corner of Facebook’s home page — was actively suppressing conservative voices. The company announced after an internal investigation that it didn’t find evidence of political bias, and has since tweaked the algorithms and policies governing Trending Stories. “[We’re not] favor[ing] specific kinds of sources — or ideas,” said Mosseri, “[or] picking which issues the world should read [about]. We do this not only because we believe it’s the right thing but also because it’s good for business.”
Publishers, for their part, won’t see the effects of the updates immediately. Pages that lean more heavily on “Page posts” will see “less of an impact” than those that rely largely on referral traffic — i.e., high-profile shares and reshares among lots of followers. But Facebook said that, on average, the update will cause a decline in readership of most Pages. “Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages,” said Facebook Engineering Director Lars Backstrom in a press release. The recommended countermeasure? Relevant and timely stories likely to generate buzz organically. “We encourage Pages to post things that their audiences are likely to share with their friends,” he said.
The impact could be drastic for some organizations. According to market research company Parse.ly, more than 40 percent of news site referral traffic comes from Facebook. But at a meeting with members of the press in San Francisco, Mosserie sought to allay fears. He touted the success of initiatives like Instant Articles, a Facebook feature which sees publishers host media-rich articles on the company’s speedy servers, and Facebook Live, an ephemeral streaming platform a la Twitter’s Periscope. The Washington Post, National Geographic, NBC News, and the Atlantic are among the services’ growing list of partners. “The growth and competition in the publisher ecosystem is really, really strong,” Mosseri told The New York Times.
But Facebook made clear, too, that it placed user experience first. “Ultimately, you know what’s most meaningful to you,” said Mosseri. “As News Feed evolves, we’ll continue building easy to use and powerful tools to give you the most personalized experience.”