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Facebook Tweaks Newsfeed to Prioritize Friends Over Publishers, and—You’re Not Even Seeing This, Are You?

Cue existential crisis.

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Facebook is essentially in control of the Internet. Along with Twitter (and Snapchat, and so on), it’s basically the filter through which everything on the web passes before most people see it. However, the people at Facebook miss a simpler time when the social networking site was mostly for seeing what your friends and family were up to instead of blocking them for the debunked political conspiracy articles they share.

Facebook has reportedly been dealing with a decline in personal sharing, which is the foundation the site was built on, as they mention in their newsroom post on some new changes aimed at turning that around. As for what those new changes are, Facebook isn’t getting terribly specific, but they mention other recent tweaks aimed at surfacing posts from family and friends higher up in the newsfeed so that they’re what users see first, with posts from pages (hi there!) showing up lower down. These new adjustments will apparently increase that effect.

The one thing they are clear about is that it will probably negatively impact anyone who uses a non-personal Facebook page to post things on Facebook: “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.”

I know; this doesn’t sound like it’s as important to any of you as it might be to, say, us, but it does shape the way a lot of people experience the Internet, which greatly affects the way they experience society in general. Facebook loves encouraging publishers and other businesses to put out content in a way that encourages sharing, because they assume that means the content is inherently better, but people are generally quick to share things they haven’t even read. (Anecdotally, we—the Mary Sue staff—constantly see this impulse to interact with articles without reading them in the form of Facebook and Twitter comments that cluelessly point out something that’s already addressed in the body of an article.)

This isn’t a problem that originated with Facebook, as other metrics of what content is “best,” like sheer number of times people click a link, have already resulted in phenomena like the ever-hated “clickbait.” It’s older even than the Internet, as print and TV media have long been wrestling with the difference between what’s good and what sells. The more Facebook prioritizes sharing and commenting as the gold standard of what’s worthwhile on the Internet, the more businesses need to chase content that’s more readily shared or commented on than it is properly read, watched, or understood, which will only feed the cycle.

(via The Verge, image via Facebook)

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