Facebook Now Prioritizing Friends' Posts Over News Items

NEWS ANALYSIS: The social network believes that brands and news are "crowding out" personal interactions. Thus, its algorithms are now more heavily pre-editing the information Facebook presents to you.


Facebook has tinkered with the way your personal News Feed serves up items in your account. As of Jan. 11, it now prioritizes and places news and other items from people already in your network ahead of items from brands and publishers—never mind the potential importance of out-of-network news items.

The social network will use its analytics to publish on an automated basis what it assumes its users would rather see; for example, a post about a friend’s trip to Italy will get preferential treatment over, say, a coupon from The Gap or a Wall Street Journal news item about a change in U.S. immigration policy.

A new-priority scenario like that one will happen because in the past, you as a user had “liked” a previous post from that friend and may not have commented before on immigration policy. Facebook never forgets a “like,” a “ha ha,” a “sad” or any of the other interactive emoticons it offers for each interaction.

This is all about assumptions based on Facebook’s ranking algorithm. Thus, the social network is now more heavily pre-editing the information it presents to you. It has done this previously but ranked news items from businesses, brands and media outlets in a more evenly distributed fashion with items from friends and family members.

Use Preferences to Keep News from Pages Coming

This change isn’t uncontrollable, however. Facebook users need to know that this change can be altered by simply going into Preferences and making sure they continue to see posts from their preferred news and brand Pages. These items might still get out-ranked by posts from friends, but at least they won’t be ignored.

It remains to be seen how much news via Pages (which users intentionally select to see from businesses and media outlets) gets left behind in this new scenario.

Stock Took a Hit on Jan. 12

Meanwhile, during the trading day Jan. 12, Facebook saw its stock price drop a hefty 4.5 percent to 5 percent to around $179 by 4 p.m. Eastern time. The stock had closed at $187.76 on Jan. 11.

JPMorgan, for one, took a dim view of the changes to the social network's news feed. A 5 percent drop could mean well more than $20 billion off the company's $522 billion market cap in one day.

Emphasizing the personal over posts from businesses could easily mean fewer ads in the feeds, though CEO Mark Zuckerberg deliberately didn't mention ads in explaining changes, analyst Doug Anmuth told Seeking Alpha.

Zuckerberg admitted that the changes might mean some engagement measures (including time on Facebook) could go down in the short term.

Zuckerberg said in a personal post that this is all about “making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.” He indicated that Facebook had heard from users to make this change, because more businesses are taking full advantage of a good, effective and inexpensive way to reach followers through the network and are “crowding out” social posts.

Here is Zuckerberg’s complete Jan. 11 post:

“One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent,” he wrote.

“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

‘But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content--posts from businesses, brands and media--is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.

“It's easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being. So we've studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities.

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos -- even if they're entertaining or informative -- may not be as good.

“Based on this, we're making a major change to how we build Facebook. I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

“We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you'll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

“As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

“For example, there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We've seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.

“Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.

‘At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections. By focusing on bringing people closer together -- whether it's with family and friends, or around important moments in the world -- we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.”

Here's a FAQ on the move

Facebook’s Head of News Feed, Adam Mosseri, posted a FAQ Jan. 11. For your convenience, here's a reprint:

“Today we use signals like how many people react to, comment on or share posts to determine how high they appear in News Feed.

“With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to – whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion.

“We will also prioritize posts from friends and family over public content, consistent with our News Feed values.”

What does this mean for Pages and public content?

“Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.

“As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”

Can people still see posts from the Pages they follow at the top of News Feed?

“Yes. People who want to see more posts from Pages they follow can choose See First in News Feed Preferences to make sure they always see posts from their favorite Pages.”

What types of Page posts will show higher in News Feed?

“Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed. For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook – in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos. Many creators who post videos on Facebook prompt discussion among their followers, as do posts from celebrities. In Groups, people often interact around public content. Local businesses connect with their communities by posting relevant updates and creating events. And news can help start conversations on important issues.

“Using ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed.”

Does this mean you are eliminating Page content from News Feed?

“No. This update is not the same as the recent tests where all Page content was moved to the Explore Tab. Page posts will still appear in News Feed, though there may be fewer of them.”

Go here to view a video from Facebook explaining its changes.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...