Tuesday 21 August 2018

Facebook falls as news source as 'fake' label begins to bite

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: PA
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: PA

Stephen Jones

There has been a dramatic drop in readers interacting with news sites' content via Facebook during the past year.

Analysis of data from social media analytics company Newswhip revealed a huge fall in engagements on website content for many of the UK's biggest news websites towards the end of 2017.

Seven out of eight UK news publishers saw year-on-year falls in both total and average engagements with content on their sites in December.

Reasons offered for the decline include the 'fake news' phenomenon, changes to Facebook algorithms and a glut in the number of publishers using Facebook.

Facebook regularly makes changes to its algorithm in an effort to keep users engaged on its platform.

Experts said they believed the development represented a "managed decline" on Facebook's part, as opposed to any kind of accident.

Penalties

Penalties on 'clickbait' headlines, the promotion of video, a higher overall number of publishers and experiments with how posts are displayed could all be having an effect, according to Matt Navarra, director of social media for technology news site 'The Next Web'.

Ian Murray, executive director of the UK Society of Editors, said the drop could also represent a response to the "growing pressure" the company has faced from a publishing industry feeling the pain of falling advertising revenues.

He also touched upon the fake news phenomenon with governments concerned over the apparent spread of misinformation and propaganda on the platform.

"The mutterings of regulation in corridors of power, again, on both sides of the Atlantic have been growing ... so is this a reason why that is happening? Perhaps that may well be," he said.

Mr Murray added: "[Mark] Zuckerberg did come out and say towards the latter end of last year more or less that it did appear Facebook had problems with regard to interference by outside bodies such as the Russians. "So therefore one presumes this is getting their house in order, as it were."

The top three performing news sites in the UK all saw declines in relation to Facebook interactions, according to research - the BBC saw engagements down 21.6pc in a year.

Asked how the news industry would respond to the additional threat of falling traffic from the social network, Mr Murray said: "If the models publishers have created are too dependent on referrals from Facebook then they are going to have to move pretty quickly to diversify."

"But I think the upside of it all is that traditional publishers have realised that it is a changing world out there and they have to be pretty adaptable," he added.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business