Facebook is testing out a change to its news feed that would could require publishers to pay to promote their posts in order to be featured there.
The test, being run in only six foreign countries for the time being, would move posts from publishers and other pages into a separate “Explore Feed” and out of the main news feed.
Facebook pages for smaller media sites in some of the countries have seen their traffic cut by 60 to 80 percent, according to Filip Struhárik, a journalist in Slovakia. The move would raise major questions for digital publishers if permanently and widely implemented, though Facebook news head Adam Mosseri says that there are currently no plans to make it global.
The social media company defended the move as a way for people to separate personal posts from media outlets, thus giving them more of a choice on what content they’d prefer to see.
A Facebook representative told Recode in a statement:
“With all of the possible stories in each person's feed, we always work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful. People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Pages. To understand if people like these two different spaces, we will test a few things, such as how people engage with videos and other types of posts. These tests will start in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. We have no current plans to roll this out globally.”
Changes to Facebook's news feed algorithm, including a feed ranking change in June and abrupt fluctuations in web traffic for major news organizations like Buzzfeed over the past few years, have become a common source of alarm among digital publishers.
Mosseri noted on Twitter, "Most ranking changes are tested for days or weeks, but given how significant a change this is we'll likely run it for months."
Update, 6:05 p.m.: Facebook later released a longer statement from Mosseri about the test. Here is part of that statement:
The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further. There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore. Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation—but that was not our intention.
It’s also important to know this test in these six countries is different than the version of Explore that has rolled out to most people. Outside of the above countries, Explore is a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos automatically customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to discover relevant content from pages they haven’t connected with yet. While Explore includes content from relevant pages, posts from pages that people like or follow will continue to appear in News Feed.