I hear it all the time these days from people: far too many news consumers claim they’re only getting news from Facebook.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong per se about getting your news from Facebook.
There is news — and legitimate news — to be found there. The problem comes, however, when you only get your news there.
Facebook recently announced it was partnering with some well-known news partners, including TV news operations like ABC News, CNN, Fox News Channel, and Univision, to create news programming. It’s clearly trying to make itself (in some small part) a news site.
Nearly every local television station has its own news page these days. They’re on most other platforms, too, but Facebook seems to be the one most people seem to focus on when it comes to where they get their news.
Unfortunately, scanning your “news feed,” Facebook’s term for the most recent posts from your friends and followed pages that it chooses to show you, is, for some people, their only attempt at finding out what’s happening.
Facebook isn’t a news site. It’s a social media site.
There’s a big difference.
When it comes to news, Facebook isn’t so much concerned with how informed you are: they’re concerned with how many clicks you make while you’re on their site and how much you engage with the posts they show you.
Media outlets — all of them — use Facebook to reach their followers and as an extension of their own sites. It’s a kind of marketing tool that helps people find out what’s happening. After all, some people are literally on Facebook all day long when they could be visiting other sites, including the very sites that belong to their favorite news source.
Whether you prefer Fox News, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC or whoever, I’m going to let you in on what shouldn’t be a secret at all for news consumers, but what seems to be a secret in any case.
Facebook doesn’t show you everything.
Let’s say the average news site produces 100 stories a day. Depending on how big it is, that might be a high guess or a low guess. But let’s just go with 100.
Those sources aren’t going to post all of those 100 stories. In fact, they’re going to do a rather curious thing.
They’re going to post some stories, not all, in a different manner than they will on their own sites. They’ll rank stories on their website by a combination of how new the information is and its order of importance. That’s exactly what you’d expect from any news source. That’s what they know their own website audience is interested in.
But when it comes to Facebook, they aren’t necessarily going to do that. They’re going to post what they think their social media audience will be interested in.
If you made a list of the top 20 stories of the day, based on views recorded from their website and views recorded from Facebook clicks, the lists might well look different.
That’s because the audiences are different. They’re quite different at times.
Journalists use news judgment on their own sites. They forced, however, to use a mix of news judgment and social media intel on their social media pages.
Why? Because Facebook then picks those stories it expects you to be interested in and shows those stories to more people. As people interact with those stories, Facebook shows them to more people. If people don’t interact much, Facebook shows those stories to fewer people.
Did you get that?
Facebook isn’t showing you stories that it thinks are important. It’s showing you stories that it thinks you will react to. That’s why those “viral” stories that may be interesting but aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things fill up your “news” feed.
Just to be clear, I’m not revealing any huge insider secrets here. That’s the way it’s always worked.
Blame that pesky algorithm. It tries to predict what you’ll be interested in based on what other people are interested in. Sometimes it does well. Sometimes, not so much.
And why are publishers on Facebook selective about which stories they post? It’s simple: Facebook’s algorithm, as best anyone can tell, shows less of a page’s posts if it sees that its recent posts haven’t performed well. If you’re a journalist, your news organization could have the biggest story of the year go up on its Facebook page. If the recent posts before that one haven’t performed well, it could well take longer for the big story to be seen by a reasonable portion of that organization’s fans.
Sure, you can go to a news organization’s actual Facebook page to see everything they’ve posted. But even then, you’re seeing the fraction of stories they’ve posted there, not everything that’s actually on their site.
I’ve seen followers on other station Facebook pages demand to know why the station “hasn’t covered” a story they think is important. I’ve seen cases where the station would reply with a link to that story…on their website. I’ve even seen cases in which a fellow follower would point out that they posted that story on that Facebook page earlier in the day.
On the one hand, you can’t blame Facebook: it’s just trying to get as many page views and interactions as it can on its site.
At the same time, its own algorithm is putting a false sense of urgency on some stories that aren’t particularly newsworthy but happen to attract far more comments or shares, even if bonafide, legitimate news stories don’t perform as well.
And often, bonafide news doesn’t perform as well as the latest cat video.
So what am I saying here?
It’s simple: don’t change what you’re doing when you’re on Facebook. Interact with the stories you’d normally interact with. But keep in mind this simple fact: You can’t rely solely on Facebook for your news and think you’re getting everything that’s newsworthy.
Those news organizations that you follow on Facebook should be news organizations whose websites you actually visit from time to time. I can guarantee you that there’s content on their actual websites that you won’t have the patience to hunt down on your Facebook wall.
Yes, it might be a bit inconvenient. But having a better grasp on what’s happening is worth a bit more effort.