Fake news, clickbait still doing well after Facebook algorithm change

Earlier this year, Facebook announced a change to its News Feed algorithm, one designed to reduce the visibility of news — apart from those outlets deemed to be high quality or trusted sources — in favor of posts by people and pages that encouraged what the social network called “meaningful interaction.” And what effect has this had on the flow of fake and/or real news? According to a recent study from media-monitoring firm Newswhip, real news is still being shared a lot, but so are obvious misinformation and clickbait.

In the report, entitled “Navigating the Facebook Algorithm Change,” the firm looked at the most widely-shared articles and found that more than half of the top 100 were hard news stories or reporting on current events, including the death of famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. But clearly falsified stories also show up fairly high in the rankings: Number 26 on the most-shared list is a report from a fake news site called Your Newswire that says the flu shot is causing a “disastrous flu outbreak.” That got more than 850,000 engagements.

Although the algorithm change has resulted in a decline in traffic to some sites (including apparently conservative sites, which are complaining that they have been deliberately targeted), Newswhip’s analysis shows that some news outlets have actually seen an increase in traffic since the change, including NBC and Fox News. January was the strongest month for Fox since October of 2017, the company says, but NBC actually eclipsed it and took the top spot for the first time since January of last year. More niche sites have suffered:

Some Pages that our data showed a more serious decline in average engagements were UNILAD, Student Problems, 9Gag, Cosmopolitan, and Architecture & Design, though some of these are starting to show some recovery. For these publishers, it might be time to look at what role their content actually serves their followers — is it connecting them to one another, teaching them something new, making them pause… or is it just adding to a landscape of digital waste?

Newswhip also found that Facebook is true to its word, and has been favoring posts that get more engagement, including comments. Over the past couple of years, the number of comments as a proportion of the overall engagement on the top 100 posts has averaged about 5 percent but since the algorithm change comments make up more than 11 percent of total engagement on the top 100 most-shared posts. Most of the ones that got a large number of comments were funny clickbait-style videos.

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