For better or worse, the USA’s 2020 presidential election is drawing closer. Historically, Facebook’s News Feed has been criticised for giving biased, amateur news and misinformation precedence equal to – and often greater than – quality reporting. To put it bluntly, that’s a dangerous game. Now, it seems, Facebook realises this, and has renewed efforts to uphold the integrity of its News Feed to minimise culpability for the election’s outcome.
The tech giant will achieve this by “prioritising original reporting”, an executive told Axios. Artificial intelligence will analyse groups of articles on a particular topic and identify those most often cited as the original source of a story.
Isn’t “Original Reporting” Difficult to Define?
Yes, but thankfully, Facebook knows this. They’ve been talking with leaders in both editorial and the business end of publishing to help define this term accurately, and bolstering their results with user research. The outcomes of these processes will be fed to its algorithm, so that it becomes increasingly more proficient at identifying “original reporting” as a news story’s original source.
What Else Should Publishers Know About Facebook’s Algorithm Change?
As it stands, Facebook will focus on English language news sites and stories. It’ll begin integrating other languages in the near future. This leads to another key point publishers should be aware of: right now, the algorithm changes only apply to news.
Facebook’s good intentions have seen it hit a hurdle regarding bylines: the company stated that its new algorithm will limit attention given to stories without bylines or titles that don’t make information about their staff easily available. And yet, they acknowledge that often, anonymity is vital for the protection of journalists. How they’ll address this conundrum remains to be seen. In the meantime: publishers, make your bylines clear, if you can.
The brand expects publishers to see a small but definite traffic boost from original reports. This is a minor but useful algorithm update, but a critic could characterise it as something Facebook will be able to identify as an attempt to fight against misinformation that in fact comes at no great effort to Facebook.
This change comes just as Google announced that in its “new news product” – more details on which will be available soon – it will begin paying publishers for “high-quality content”. Time will tell if tech giants siding with responsible publishers represents the beginning of a significant change to our industry, or merely a PR trend.