Facebook's algorithm changes coupled with other challenges could presage a total extinction event for digital publishers
Hope you like your friends' cat photos. You'll probably be seeing more of them on Facebook, and fewer posts from news organizations like this one.
Facebook's recent announcement that it is changing the algorithm driving its news feed to prioritize posts from friends and family has news organizations worried that Facebook users will be seeing fewer of their news posts.
Over the past several years, news publishers have made huge investments in their Facebook audiences. And, at least until the middle of last year, those investments were paying off in clicks — Facebook was the top referrer to news websites.
For its part, Facebook played the (albeit unintentional) role of the printing press for many digital publishers, distributing their original content to a wider audience and driving traffic and clicks to publishers' websites.
And, make no mistake, Mark Zuckerberg's social media empire profited greatly from providing a platform for news content. Facebook quickly became the world's biggest distributor of content without actually producing any of its own original content.
When Facebook got in trouble in 2016 for taking ad money from foreign agents looking to influence the presidential election, soul-searching ensued. And now Facebook is turning its back on media outlets and betting on a return to the company's roots of "connecting people to people."
So what does this mean for publishers like this one?
Only the future will tell, but it clarifies that Facebook was never an ally to news organizations; it was always just a marketing platform that kept changing the rules to suit its needs and its bottom line.
For news organizations, it's exhausting to pander to a third-party algorithm and chase clicks. Let’s hope this monumental shift isn't the end of the news but the beginning of a return to media's traditional role of writing stories that shine a light in dark places and hold the powerful to account.
Let's hope that most Facebook users care enough to frequent the websites and subscribe to the newsletters of their favorite news organizations to get news directly from the source without an algorithm telling them what to read.
As a news organization focused on covering ecosystems in southern New England, we understand how a small change can have system-wide ramifications. We can only hope that the media ecosystem our reporters inhabit isn't lost to (social media) developers.
Joanna Detz is the executive director of ecoRI News and has never owned a cat.