Facebook Brings New Changes To Its Newsfeed
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Facebook says it is again tweaking the algorithm that drives its news feed. They say people will see more posts from and about their families and friends rather than posts from media organizations. But what might be good news for people who use Facebook might also be making some media executives uncomfortable. To talk about this we have NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik on the line from New York. Hi there.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So what exactly does Facebook say that it is doing?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, in a sense, Facebook is saying it's going back to basics. There was a post yesterday from Adam Mosseri. He's a vice president who helps to oversee the famous and vaunted news feed. If you think about how Facebook started, it was, you know, a bunch of kids in college. It grew to include people outside the college years, but they wanted to connect with friends and family. And that's what they say they are receiving as a message from their users.
Now, a lot of, you know, publishers, news organizations, media outlets have really come to rely on Facebook in a lot of way. And we should say NPR has a financial arrangement with Facebook. The Wall Street Journal has reported that it's to the tune of $1.2 million a year to produce what are called Facebook Live, these live-stream videos. So there are ways in which there's these entanglements, and people have come to rely on Facebook in the media world.
MCEVERS: So you say that, you know, this comes as people were demanding that Facebook go back to what Facebook originally was, but why now? Why has Facebook made this change now?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I don't know that people were demanding it, but they were noting it that they were getting that kind of feedback. I think the reason there's this disclosure now is this comes just a few weeks after we've been talking about - the questions were raised about bias. That is that whether human error - editors at Facebook were putting a thumb on the scale to what was called the trending topics. If you're looking on a desktop computer terminal, that would be on the right hand column. It's not the news feed, but these are stories and subjects that are surfaced by people as well as algorithms that you might be interested in.
And Facebook is making an attempt to be more transparent in what it's doing and why it's doing. And I think we should point out these tweaks happen all the time. Facebook doesn't always announce them.
MCEVERS: Right, and so I can understand why news organizations would not be happy with the fact that a lot of their stories aren't getting out there, but why are still - why else do they feel threatened by this move?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, the real threat is to the kinds of stories that are posted in the official Facebook accounts and pages of the news organizations. So take NPR's, we've got just shy of 5 million people who have liked the page. That means they receive notifications when we post things. And that's going to be pushed down in the list of priorities.
Now, all of that taken into account, you know, media executives I spoke to about - to executives at about six different media companies today, and they say, look; our stories are still going to be built to be as viral as ever. If your cousin Millie shares a story, that story is going to be very much in your feed. It's that if NPR shares it, it will not be quite as prominently placed. They used to perhaps over-promote it. Now they're going to reduce it back that. You know, what Facebook giveth, it can taketh away.
MCEVERS: Any sense that, you know, the algorithm could be tweaked further and we would either know or not know about it?
FOLKENFLIK: I think there's going to be a roller coaster ride. I think this is - you know, we used to hear about apps or programs being in beta form - that is being tested and figured out. I think there is - this is the land of the eternal beta where Facebook is going to be overwhelmingly testing and retesting, seeing what will keep users on their pages.
And they're - you know, they're not dispensing with what professional media companies are doing. They're kind of sending them to things like the Facebook Live, what we here at NPR call the NPR Live, live streams. There are instant articles where it's an immediate flow of content done, but it's within very specified, almost gardens of Facebook as opposed to just the postings and innovations done by the media companies themselves.
MCEVERS: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you very much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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