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Facebook's News Feed Update Isn't Good News For Publishers—But It May Be For You

Would you rather get your news directly from publishers or from your Facebook friends?

[Photo: Flickr user abstract duck]

If you've been feeling like Facebook is clogging up your News Feed with too many dispiriting news stories and not enough cute baby pictures, this one's for you: The social network is tweaking its algorithm yet again, much to the dismay of publishers. After receiving user feedback that people were missing updates from friends and family, Facebook is pushing those types of posts—be it links, photos, or videos—to the top of your News Feed. It's an expansion of a similar change the social network made last year.

The updated algorithm will not affect posts that companies "boost" by paying a fee to Facebook, and does not discriminate by type of content: Instant Articles, Facebook Live, and video posts will be treated the same if they are originating from a company's Page rather than friends or family.

This announcement has, of course, resulted in dozens of headlines bemoaning the update's potential impact on reach for publishers who rely heavily on Facebook for traffic ("Facebook is cutting traffic to publishers in favor of user-generated content"). And in its own blog post, Facebook was fairly transparent about the fact that the change would hurt some publishers:

Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.

For the viral-savvy BuzzFeeds of the world, this change may not mean much; as Facebook points out, articles that are shared a lot and have high engagement will still be promoted in the News Feed, since it's clear that people are reading and talking about that content even outside of a publisher page.

But here's the thing: Facebook claims this is what users want. And even if you're someone who follows publishers on Facebook and uses the platform as one of your primary news sources, you're probably more likely to read something when a lot of your friends have shared it. (Plus, you may have noticed you've been missing out on posts by friends and family that you would have wanted to see.) It sounds like Facebook is making a change that the vast majority of users will appreciate, media be damned. And given 44% of the U.S. population gets news on Facebook, it's possible that many Facebook users would rather home in on the news their friends and family care about—so maybe Facebook's onto something here.

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