2023.06.18 - Published Sunday 7:30AM. Title: Websites Say Traffic Plummeted After Facebook Algorithm Change. Publication: Gizmodo.com
Original Article : https://gizmodo.com/facebook-traffic-down-algorithm-change-1850549012
Summary: Publishers relying on Facebook traffic are at the mercy of Meta’s algorithm, and they say it’s punishing them.
A recent change to Facebook’s algorithm in May resulted in a significant decrease in traffic to news and media websites, leaving publishers concerned about the lack of transparency from Meta, Facebook’s parent company.
The decline in clicks from Facebook had been ongoing, but it accelerated rapidly in May 2023. Publishers are struggling with the reliance on Facebook as a major traffic source and express frustration at the lack of control over algorithmic changes.
The dependence on Facebook has led to business collapses in the digital media industry. Publishers argue that while Meta is a private company, they at least deserve communication regarding algorithmic changes. The article also highlights Meta’s history of opaque changes and controversies related to news content.
Some quotes from the article:
Sources who spoke to Gizmodo all say the shift started in February and worsened in the months following. “There’s been a significant downward trend, and it’s an important platform for us because our audience is disproportionately on Facebook. It makes up about 25% of our traffic,” said Robert Chappell, Executive Editor at Madison 365, a nonprofit newsroom that covers communities of color in Wisconsin. “You never know what’s going to change. It makes it hard to plan for the future.”
Clicks coming from Facebook have been in decline for about a year, but that drop accelerated rapidly in May 2023, according to Echobox, which collects data from more than 2,000 publishers worldwide. Across Echobox’s clients, the share of traffic coming from Facebook fell about 50% from summer of last year.
“It’s difficult to say with certainty what the causes are, but Facebook has made no secret about its intention to deprioritize news on its platform and give greater precedence to video content, which by nature results in less clickthrough traffic,” said Antoine Amann, CEO of Echobox. “It can be extremely challenging for publishers to be at the mercy of third-party platforms, with performance and revenues severely impacted by algorithmic changes over which they have no control.”
Unexpected turbulence in social media traffic is at partly to blame for a recent flurry of business collapses at news companies, such as a bankruptcy filing at Vice Media and the shuttering of BuzzFeed News. Nicholas Carlson, Editor in Chief of Insider, named a severed connection to Facebook as one of the major headwinds causing declining traffic at his company’s sites, which recently laid off employees and endured a combative strike that ended Thursday.
Facebook is no stranger to opaque changes with major ramifications for the companies that make its most popular content. Most significant is Facebook’s infamous 2015 “pivot to video” when the company touted false metrics about how popular video content was on the platform and encouraged publishers make more videos. That prompted a media-industry-wide shift with heavy investments in producing video content (and corresponding layoffs in other departments) that, in reality, users weren’t watching.
“Our content has provided a lot of value to Facebook, we’ve been a part of the ecosystem since they launched Facebook Pages over a decade ago. But as a small business, it seems like Facebook doesn’t respect us,” the sports and culture site employee said. They asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by Facebook.
Making matters worse, Chappell, Madison 365’s editor, told Gizmodo that the performance of content is varying noticeably based on the subject matter. He said Meta isn’t just deciding whether or not users see more news, it’s deciding what kind of news shows up in users’ feeds.
The digital media industry’s dependence on Facebook, once well known as a firehose of traffic, is well documented and one-sided. In May, Meta threatened to block news links altogether on Facebook and Instagram in California in response to a bill moving through the state legislature that would force tech platforms (Google as well as Meta) to pay publishers for news content… Whistleblowers claimed Meta blocked not only news but also the pages for hospitals and fire services in Australia in 2021 in response to a similar proposed law. Meta denied that allegation, saying the blocked pages were an unintentional flub.
The media workers Gizmodo spoke to stressed that Meta is a private company that is free to make changes and doesn’t owe anyone traffic or revenue. But the publishers said, at the very least, they deserve communication.