Fake News And Algorithms -- Is Boosting Facebook Instant Articles The End Game?

It would be difficult to find two developments that are more ironic. But if you think about where Facebook is headed, it may make sense.

On the one hand, online publishing is dealing with the Facebook algorithm tweak that will mean fewer news stories appearing in the average user's feed. Zuckerberg has clarified that this means the news stories that people share and comment on the most are the ones that will be most likely to get the greatest public exposure.

On the other hand, the latest research suggests that only one in four Britons trusts the news they read in their social feeds. In fact, the Edelman trust barometer shows this had led to a large spike in trust for traditional news outlets. 

So, just at the time when people are more wary of fake news than any other, Facebook is cutting back on the volume of news they receive. The stories that do appear will be those that have attracted the highest level of debate. 

Don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure the articles that get the most debate in my feed are quite often what I would call fake news but which their avid sharers would sum up as a challenge to the 'mainstream media' or "MSM."

The irony comes when you look at the media attention bar chart for the UK. Facebook is way above any national newspaper. It's no secret that the nationals are coming to rely on the social media giant as a major contributor to their sites now that fewer people routinely go to a home page as their first port of call. 

So, to have this source of traffic throttled by an algorithm is obviously a concern to these sites, particularly as it is the news stories that generate a lot of "noise" that will appear in feeds. It's no wonder that one in four don't trust the news in their feed when it's coming from small sites that are highly skilled in conjuring up headlines that get a lot of response. This doesn't mean they are the most trustworthy sites -- they just know which buttons to press to get a lot of shares and a discussion going. 

Where is this all leading? Well, publishers already have the right to advertise on Facebook, to promote posts to drive traffic, and if offered, to boost subscriptions.

The million-dollar question is -- are these developments a coincidence, or are they linked to Facebook trialling its subscription news feed services on Android? Apparently, publishers have the option of offering so many free views or a freemium model where all except a certain category of content is given away free.

To give Facebook some credit, any subscriptions the new service generates will go straight to the publisher. And to give Zuckerberg a break, his protestations that he truly wants to take the fake news off his platform appears laudable. 

It just looks like a new Instant Articles subscription service might be the benefactor here. News is throttled down on the main site and people aren't trusting all the stories that do appear. Thus, a service where the big publishers are providing Instant Access to their stories must surely be where attention will move.

Cleaning up the news feed will surely send more news to people via Instant Articles, and this must be to the financial benefit of Facebook. If it creates a platform for decent journalism, then to be honest, it is likely to benefit the user too.

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