Will Facebook's News Tab Help Curb Clickbait?

  • by October 25, 2019
Facebook today debuts its "News" tab to showcase news articles selected by a team of editors as part of a broader effort to quash the spread of "fake news" on the social network.
I hope the news platform works well for publishers that participate, although it's important to avoid an overdependence on Facebook for revenue, branding and web traffic. Many digital publishers, to their great chagrin, saw a major drop-off in web traffic almost two years ago when Facebook changed the way it shows content on its platform.
Amid heightened concerns that passive viewing of content was bad for people's mental health, as compared with more active engagement with others, Facebook changed its "news feed" algorithm to de-emphasize third-party content.

Startup digital publishers like Little Things that depended on the traffic withered away, but the entire media industry felt the effect of the change. Digital publisher Slate lost 87% of its referral traffic in what it described as "the Great Facebook Crash" -- and its experience wasn't unusual for media outlets.



Facebook’s human editors can act as a firewall against the temptation to publish clickbait stories that generate web traffic.

I was thinking about this possible effect after reading a story this week about Newsweek, which used to be a scrappy rival to Time magazine. If Time were the market-leading Hertz of the newsweeklies -- to use a car-rental brand analogy -- then Newsweek was second-place Avis that tried harder. 

Writing in the Columbia Journal Review, reporter Daniel Tovrov shares the recent saga of mismanagement by Newsweek's owners that has left the magazine with depleted finances to support its newsroom. An emphasis on editorial quantity over quality shows how the incentives to generate traffic from Google and Facebook have a perverse effect on the way news is covered.

Newsweek gets more than three-fourths of its traffic from search engines and social media, while nobody visits the site directly, according to a web traffic report Tovrov obtained for his story. Many of those readers discover "there's no there there" at Newsweek's site, with only 5% of readers opening up other stories after they arrive.
That's a huge missed opportunity after spending so much effort to lure people to a website.

With Facebook's editors screening out aggregated stories and clickbait, publishers will face greater pressure to create original content and exclusive reporting that have a better chance at getting noticed on the social network.

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