The Guardian recently reported that Facebook is testing a twin-feed setup that would separate public and private content. The trial is being conducted in six countries – Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka. This change would remove non-promoted posts from the primary news feed to a secondary news feed called Explore. The former would contain posts from friends and adverts. This could prove to be counterproductive for those publishers who rely solely on Facebook to connect with their audience.
Depending on which side of the computer you are, you may have different opinions on the change. Facebook’s head of News Feed, Adam Mosseri, in a statement said, “We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed. People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.” Over the years, while Facebook users have grown in numbers, they have reduced posting personal content. Most people do not feel the same personal connection they had with the social media giant in the past. “I kind of miss the Facebook that was JUST my friends on my feed,” said one user. Therefore, this could be an attempt on Facebook’s part to reconnect with its users.
However, introducing the Explore Feed is not without its ramifications. It may have a negative effect on media outlets all over the world that depend on Facebook’s News Feed to circulate their stories. It may be especially devastating to journalists in countries where free speech and democratic principles are fettered. Dina Fernandez, a journalist with Guatemalan website Soy502, said that she is worried about the change, “not only because it has decimated our numbers but also because the feed pops up with preposterous sites.” “The danger for the spread of propaganda and the political instrumentalization of social media, particularly in countries with fragile democracies like ours, is acute,” she said.
In his post-Biggest drop in Facebook organic reach we have ever seen, Filip Struhárik, an editor and social media manager at Dennik N said, “Pages are seeing dramatic drops in organic reach. Reach of several asked Facebook pages fell on Thursday and Friday by two-thirds compared to previous days. Sixty biggest Slovak media pages have 4 times fewer interactions (likes, comments, shares) since the test. It looks like the effect in Guatemala and Cambodia is the same.”
However, a few days later, in another post on Medium titled What Facebook taught us when it destroyed our organic reach, he said, “Everyone’s reach fell by tens of percentage points, many by more than half. But despite this, traffic levels of most news portals have remained unchanged.” he goes on to say that the “Explore Feed test also showed us that the numbers Facebook gives us are useless. They are a meaningless indicator that we stress about, but that doesn’t correlate with anything. So what do we need reach for if it can swing up or down by 50% in a day, while actual traffic isn’t affected?” “The Slovak experience can also be summarized this way: if a media outlet has a significant presence beyond Facebook, changes on its social media channels don’t have to be a threat,” he said.
In the aftermath of 2016 Presidential elections in the United States of America and the role that fake news played in influencing voter decision, Facebook has come under scrutiny. It is being criticised for not doing enough to curb the menace of fake news and allowing it to propagate freely. One of the reasons for the circulation of fake news was the algorithm that recommends other posts with similar content. The more a user liked or shared a particular type of content, the more likely they were to receive similar recommendations. Perhaps this is why Facebook introduced the Explore Feed that brings to you a motley concoction of a different kind of content. Adam Mosseri in his statement said, “Explore is a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos automatically customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to discover relevant content from pages they haven’t connected with yet. While Explore includes content from relevant pages, posts from pages that people like or follow will continue to appear in News Feed.”
In his statement, Mosseri also mentioned that the managers at Moley Park “currently have no plans to roll this test out further.” People fear that with the Explore Feed Facebook would only promote paid content and to be on people’s radar, publishers will have to pay the tech giant.
Warding off the allegations Mosseri said, “There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore. Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation — but that was not our intention.”
Facebook is a private company and has every right to make changes to the products it offers its users. It can offer new products and can retract them at any given point. It does, however, have to keep in mind the influence it has on people. When you are one of the biggest social media websites in the world, having over 2 billion users, you have a responsibility towards them. Try as you may, you cannot shy away from that responsibility.