It’s 2018, it’s been almost 12 years since its launch, so let’s review – what’s new with the Facebook newsfeed? Hint: it’s looking a lot more like a feed without the ‘news’ part, and a lot of media outlets aren’t too happy.
Like every social media platform competing for online users through continual revamps and renovations, the Facebook newsfeed has had its fair share of updates since its launch. Most prominently observed and engaged by those of us who first logged into the world of social media in the mid- to late-noughties, we’ve grown to acknowledge the appearance of multiple new facets appearing onto our newsfeed. Gone are the days it was all about uploading an album of highly pixelled webcam selfies with your friends, or engaging in riveting conversations about the upcoming school disco, and here we are now with branded content and articles that seem far too relevant to our recent Google searches or even what we were thinking of whilst brushing our teeth (how do they know?).
Whilst we all unknowingly tumbled headfirst into the universally accredited ‘digital age’, news industries were quick to realise the importance of diving in alongside us, their consumers. So although many third parties comfortably relied upon the Facebook newsfeed to drive their traffic, the new year brought in a new concept. Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to “fix Facebook” just earlier this year seemingly involves, quite simply, taking the ‘news’ out of the Facebook newsfeed. He announced the social media platform’s algorithm would be altered to display more posts from friends and family on users’ newsfeed, thus leading to a decrease in posts by brands and publishers – an idea not wholly new from updates in 2015 and 2016, but this time, more strongly implemented.
accessibility and encouragement towards more reliable news mediums should be the next step towards finding a solution.
Designed supposedly to return to the ‘social’ part of social media and encourage more meaningful interactions on the site, it has been predicted to show a positive development in the long-term for general user satisfaction. There is no doubt these changes were accelerated in light of the global uproar surrounding ‘fake news’, but simultaneously, the disturbance to media outlets will cause short-term turmoil. Less social media space, fewer opportunities for marketing, inevitably less money – you can see the downwards spiral from a mile off. Regardless, the most important question here is: should we be trying this hard to separate the news from social media?
Although seemingly more of a forceful attempt this time, it’s not the first time Zuckerberg has announced Facebook’s shift towards prioritising its users over non-paying businesses and brands. Updates to the newsfeed algorithm in previous years have included de-prioritising ‘clickbait’ headlines, boosting timely or currently trending posts to the top of the feed, lowering the reach of posts deemed overly promotional, and more. Moreover, the goal to reduce hoaxes and propaganda spreading virally across the social media platform has come after a year of critics’ warnings of its negative impact upon society, with company executives hoping some changes will improve mental health and well-being.
Furthermore, taking this step could be regarded as a highly influential move, considering Facebook’s increasingly significant role in distributing online news. A study in 2016 from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism stated that 44 percent of people used it as their source of news in 2016, followed by 19 percent using YouTube and 10 percent Twitter, for the same purposes. As of August 2017, a survey showed that 67 percent of Americans reported receiving at least some of their news from social media, with 20 percent doing so on a regular basis.
Although statistics mostly tend to focus on American populations, per se, there is still supporting evidence for this issue being a globally increasing trend: the highest levels of respondents claiming to access news from social media were observed from Sweden (69 percent), Korea (66 percent), and Switzerland (61 percent).
Interestingly, surveys have also suggested that social media news usage has increased among older, non-white, and less-educated Americans. In regions with limited access to reliable and independent news channels, it has been observed that people are forced to rely on social media for news: for instance, populations developing countries in Asia and Africa using social media on their mobile phones as their most prominent source of news. Although these statistics may not offer the most well-rounded view, there is certainly a distinct increase in news distribution from the more reliable TV channels and journalism towards more easily accessible, yet likely unreliable, platforms. In this respect, it might be a positive step to implement monitoring of the news floating around social media sites.
Nevertheless, despite the imminent wedge due to be driven between Facebook newsfeeds and third-party media outlets, there are certainly some positive aspects to the use of news on today’s social media platforms. For one, the spread of news across a wider circle than your own community of family and friends often leads to greater overall circulation of ideas, some of which you may never be exposed to if you kept within your personalised Zuckerberg ‘bubble’. Ever heard of the bittersweet phrase, ‘everyone seems to become a politician on Facebook’ towards election time? Yes, this targets the majority of millennials who voice any opinion whatsoever on the current political climate.
There is no doubt these changes were accelerated in light of the global uproar surrounding ‘fake news’
However, it’s also apparent that those people within our social media bubbles will most often place themselves near us on the political spectrum – anyone who’s had experience of observing a very opinionated Tory supporter arguing with a gaggle of lefties on a Guardian piece will understand witnessing someone outside the ‘bubble’ trying to break in and burst it. Therefore, the use of news media circulating across our feeds in an impersonal manner would more likely spark intelligent debates that wouldn’t be observed among people holding similar beliefs – obviously, many of these may just be the likes of people in the comments section of the Daily Mail articles, in which case the argument may simply linger on ‘let’s agree to disagree.’
Moreover, the positives of news media being disseminated into more personal social media spaces can lead to an increase in political awareness, especially amongst younger generations. In turn, a greater independence of thought influenced by social media could mean a greater urge to stand up for one’s beliefs – through campaigning, petitioning, and educating.
In an example of a best case scenarios, this could lead to more young people voting – an issue prevalent in the UK since voting turnouts have failed to level up to the 77.7 percent it reached in 1992. Although quite optimistic, it could be that the use of news media proved to be beneficial in informing the masses: through productive means, encouraging greater societal participation, and therefore even creating a better sense of belonging. After all, what more could you want from us millennial snowflakes uniting and contributing to society for the greater good?
Sadly, in the digital-savvy generations of the 21st century, it would be pretty naïve to assume the Internet a nice place. A place where we can expect to find objective and insightful information which – upon absorbing on top of our own internalised beliefs – would keep us on our toes and accurately fill in the gaps needed to develop a well-rounded political view. It only takes a flashback to the 2016 presidential election campaign in the United States to depict just how powerful the impact of mishandled and corrupt news can be in significant, history-changing events.
Why so many people fell for fake news revolving around the tarnishing of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s characters is still a nagging question faced by many social scientists since the presidential race, and one that should wave red flags straight in our face about the dangerous power of circulating news where it can be misinterpreted. Unsurprisingly, psychologists have revealed that through repetition and even vague familiarity, people will more likely believe a fake news article than if it were completely unfamiliar yet true.
Therefore, the same article popping up on your newsfeed will be bound to have more of an effect on our brains than anything you’ve quickly skimmed past on BBC News’ homepage, no matter how much you’d like to convince yourself it wouldn’t. Even if we don’t agree, the subconscious drilling is still evident – and that’s what the dangers of fake news encompass. Then there’s always the issue of people using any article of news they come across on their Twitter to support already-ingrained bigoted and potentially harmful views. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that with the widespread circulation of certain types of news media, there must be some degree of education and responsibility to accompany it.
what’s new with the Facebook newsfeed? Hint: it’s looking a lot more like a feed without the ‘news’ part
Overall, although more steps should be taken towards targeting and educating audiences to discount fake news articles with shady agendas, a deeper solution is needed in terms of preventing people to see this fake news in the first place, which is potentially where Zuckerberg may be on track towards, even if at a (literal) cost. Whilst closing ourselves in a bubble could be beneficial for establishing closer connections and improving our well-being, should we really ignore the debacles taking place around us? Sure politics shouldn’t come into everything, but surely pushing our way out of the bubble with an open-minded mindset and a pinch of scepticism is more needed.
To be exposed to the darker side of news media on your social media might be scary, but to challenge it and work to create better accessibility and encouragement towards more reliable news mediums should be the next step towards finding a solution.
To read more about news in the media, specifically fake news, read this one, where Columnist Alexandra Luca discusses the term ‘fake news’ and its implications on society.