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How will Facebook changes affect news consumption? NPR, STLPR weigh in

St. Louis Public Radio

Facebook launched News Feed 11 years ago so users could see friends’ posts without having to visit their profiles. Today, News Feed is the unofficial homepage of the internet with billions of viewers each month.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed how users will experience new changes on Facebook and how media organizations such as St. Louis Public Radio and NPR are dealing with the changes.

Joining the discussion were Lindsay Toler, St. Louis Public Radio engagement producer, Amber Hinsley, associate professor of communication at Saint Louis University, and Sara Goo, managing editor at NPR who oversees digital strategy.

They addressed the following questions:

  • What changes did Facebook make?
  • What do the changes mean for users and for media organizations?
  • What do the changes teach us about how journalism organizations interact with the public on social media?
  • Who gets to decide which news is trustworthy and which isn’t?

Listen to the full discussion:

Among the changes Facebook announced is a prioritization of content shared by friends and family and a de-emphasize of content from publishers. This will have an effect on brands, celebrities and publishers – especially news outlets, which rely on social media to connect with audiences.

“What I’m seeing Facebook do is try to crowdsource the meaning of ‘Truth’ and ‘Journalism,’” Toler said.

She said the social network will make interactions with publisher pages, such as St. Louis Public Radio, less valuable than an interaction between two people. Further, Facebook’s secret algorithm makes figuring out what gets seen and what doesn’t a moving target.

Previous controversies

Hinsley said a few years ago, Facebook debuted the “trending topics” section, where actual employees of Facebook looked at the algorithms and highlighted stories they perceived to be informational. But the site received criticism since the content shared tended to skew towards more “left-leaning news.”

“Then the reaction was to go completely to algorithms, which as we know from the presidential campaign of fall 2016, didn’t go so well for them,” Hinsley said. Propagandists took advantage of the new formula to promote and diffuse misinformation and clickbait.  

In addition, Goo said Facebook is under pressure from members of Congress, who feel that the social networking site needs to take more responsibility for the content that appears on the platform.

“Facebook is trying to walk this tight-rope. On one hand, they know that news is engaging, people respond to it, people react to it and they have strong feelings,” Goo said. “On the other hand, they don’t view themselves as a media company.”

Researchers have also found that passively scrolling through News Feed can damage a person’s emotional well-being due to the lack of interaction with friends and family posts.

“But I like to think that we, at St. Louis Public Radio, are friends and family to the people of our community,” Toler said. “We run our Facebook like it’s run by a person and not by a robot or an algorithm. I think that will help us but undoubtedly our traffic will go down.”

Goo said it is concerning that the change will result in people seeing less news but that the amount of new digital websites pretending to be factual news organizations offering disinformation have caused the shift in trust between the public and the media.

Facebook plans to filter what news sources are and aren’t trusted by letting its users decide through a survey.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to,” Goo said. “Can Facebook really make any positive steps in a way that rebuilds that trust between the public and the press?”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.


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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
Lindsay is the senior engagement producer at St. Louis Public Radio.
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