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Why publishers shouldn’t trust Facebook News

Are we really doing this again? After the pivot to video. After Instant Articles. After news was deleted from the News Feed. Once more, Facebook dangles extra traffic, and journalism outlets leap through its hoop and into its cage.

Tomorrow, Facebook will unveil its News tab. About 200 publishers are already aboard including the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed News, and some will be paid. None seem to have learned the lesson of platform risk.

When you build on someone else’s land, don’t be surprised when you’re bulldozed. And really, given Facebook’s flawless track record of pulling the rug out from under publishers, no one should be surprised.

I could just re-run my 2015 piece on how “Facebook is turning publishers into ghost writers,” merely dumb content in its smart pipe. Or my 2018 piece on “how Facebook stole the news business” by retraining readers to abandon publishers’ sites and rely on its algorithmic feed.

Chronicling Facebook’s abuse of publishers

Let’s take a stroll back through time and check out Facebook’s past flip-flops on news that hurt everyone else:

-In 2007 before Facebook even got into news, it launches a developer platform with tons of free virality, leading to the build-up of companies like Zynga. Once that spam started drowning the News Feed, Facebook cut it and Zynga off, then largely abandoned gaming for half a decade as the company went mobile. Zynga never fully recovered.

-In 2011, Facebook launches the open graph platform with Social Reader apps that auto-share to friends what news articles you’re reading. Publishers like The Guardian and Washington Post race to build these apps and score viral traffic. But in 2012, Facebook changes the feed post design and prominence of social reader apps, they lost most of their users, those and other outlets shut down their apps, and Facebook largely abandons the platform

guardian social reader dau done done done 1

-In 2015, Facebook launches Instant Articles, hosting news content inside its app to make it load faster. But heavy-handed rules restricting advertising, subscription signup boxes, and recirculation modules lead publishers to get little out of Instant Articles. By late 2017, many publishers had largely abandoned the feature.

Facebook Instant Articles Usage

Decline of Instant Article use, via Columbia Journalism Review

-Also in 2015, Facebook started discussing “the shift to video,” citing 1 billion video views per day. As the News Feed algorithm prioritized video and daily views climbed to 8 billion within the year, newsrooms shifted headcount and resources from text to video. But a lawsuit later revealed Facebook already knew it was inflating view metrics by 150% to 900%. By the end of 2017 it had downranked viral videos, eliminated 50 million hours per day of …read more

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