technology

Web Publishers May Get Hurt by Facebook's Newsfeed Overhaul

  • Users to see fewer posts from businesses, Zuckerberg announces
  • Media firms ask for more detail as they prepare for changes

Zuckerberg Aims to Bring Facebook Back to Its Social Network Roots

After Mark Zuckerberg fixes Facebook, the media industry may need some repairs. 

Following years of hiring editors and investing in content specifically for the social-media giant’s mighty news feed, Facebook Inc.’s CEO announced sweeping changes that will redirect the site’s 2 billion-plus users more toward posts from friends and family and away from business and media content.

That’s bad news for publishers relying on Facebook to deliver eyeballs. An increased proportion of user-generated content could also be a concern for advertisers, who worry their commercial pitches could end up alongside controversial material, a problem YouTube has been contending with as celebrity contributors like Logan Paul post offensive clips.

Facebook drives about 17 percent of the visits to the websites of companies participating in Digital Content Next, a group that represents publishers including Bloomberg News, CNBC, 21st Century Fox Inc. and Al Jazeera, said Jason Kint, CEO of the organization.

While news should continue to be a big part of what Facebook users read, the change does highlight the company’s power “to decide (and alter) the kinds of information that people are exposed to,” said David Chavern, CEO of the News Media Alliance, a group of about 2,000 organizations pressing for a larger share of the revenue their content generates on the social-media service.

“It is an incredible power that carries incredible responsibilities,” Chavern said in a statement.

‘Crowding Out’

In a post Thursday, Zuckerberg said feedback has shown that public content has been “crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” He vowed last week to “fix” the social network after a year that saw Facebook come under sharp criticism for contributing to a climate of extreme political polarization, the distribution of fake news and escalating privacy concerns.

The goal of the product teams will be to help Facebook’s users find content that will lead to more meaningful social interactions, he said. The shares fell as much as 5.5 percent to $177.40 in New York.

Quality media organizations must establish “a viable subscription model on platforms that enables publishers to build a direct relationship with readers and to manage the terms of access to their content,” John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times, owned by Nikkei Inc., said in a statement on the changes. “Without that -- as the large majority of all new online advertising spend continues to go to the search and social media platforms -- quality content will no longer be a choice or an option.”

ISBA, a lobby group for British advertisers, cautiously welcomed the move if it results in the public “feeling less bombarded by poor quality advertising.”

However, the group added, “more detail is needed and we would strongly urge Facebook to be more open and accountable to advertisers and the public in its assessment of the current position and in its reporting of the impact of any measures it takes.”

One optimistic voice came from Farhad Divecha, managing director of AccuraCast, a small digital marketing agency in north London whose clients include celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

He called it a win-win for Facebook, users and companies like his, as it will likely increase the incentive for marketers to spend, and push up quality and trust for users.

“Facebook’s making more money as brands get forced to spend on advertising rather than just relying on organic,” he said. “And the users are getting better quality stuff. People are fed up with the click-bait.”

— With assistance by Joe Mayes, and Gerry Smith

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