Facebook intentionally curbed the visibility of left-leaning news outlets from its algorithm in 2017, limiting their readership, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has reported.
According to WSJ, when Facebook engineers altered the newsfeed algorithm to reduce political news, changes had a larger impact on left-wing sites. The WSJ reported that Mark Zuckerberg personally approved the changes.
The alterations were made after executives raised concerns that right-wing sites would be affected more by plans to reduce political news.
The impact on publishers
One of the outlets thought to have been affected by the changes is progressive outlet Mother Jones. The publication is a magazine that focuses on investigative journalism.
The editor-in-chief of Mother Jones estimated that the reduction in traffic meant losses of “$400,000 to $600,000 a year” for the magazine and resulted in pay cuts.
Ben Dreyfuss, editorial director for growth and strategy at Mother Jones, said:
[Social media editors] want people to read the stories. They want to make a difference. A lot of times, it doesn’t work and that’s just life, but when it doesn’t work ever, it is very frustrating, because you feel like you’ve let down not only your audience but your colleagues. It’s difficult and disheartening to keep running into walls, and to learn that the walls were placed there intentionally, so my colleagues and I would be stopped as we tried to promote our magazine’s work, makes me livid.
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After Trump was elected in November 2016, Facebook was accused of playing a large part in the circulation of ‘fake news’.
Conservative outlets claimed Facebook had an anti-conservative bias in 2016 after it was alleged that workers had removed right-wing topics from the ‘trending’ section.
According to The WSJ, fears were raised that updates on political news visibility would add to accusations of anti-conservative bias. This reportedly lead to redesign that affected “left-leaning sites… more than previously planned”
In response to the allegations, A Facebook spokesperson told the WSJ:
We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers.
Facebook’s algorithm history
In 2018, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would make changes to its algorithm to give priority to content from “friends, family and groups”. Facebook would also limit the visibility of content from media and businesses.
Some left-wing publications had already reported noticing their Facebook traffic had dropped dramatically.
In response, several left-wing UK outlets, including The Canary, joined together in March 2018 to try and maintain the availability of their publications. A joint Facebook group was created ‘to help combat technical changes imposed by Facebook’. However, with the US election currently approaching The Canary has noticed another reduction in the reach of its articles on Facebook. The secretive nature of Facebook’s and Google’s algorithm means that news sites have no control or understanding of how changes to it will affect their ability to reach readers.
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Featured image via Flickr/Anthony Quintano
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