Facebook Is Testing a Feature That Could Forever Change How You Get Your News

Media

Back in the social media dark ages of 2004, Facebook merely influenced the productivity of college students, who logged on to stalk their crushes when they should have been studying for exams. Twelve years and billions of dollars later, Facebook influences how the world receives its news and votes in elections. Sixty-six percent of Americans have a Facebook account, and 45 percent of them get their news from the social media behemoth, according to an August 2017 report from Pew Charitable Trust.


If you're among those millions of Americans who get their news primarily from Facebook, your experience is about to change.

In theory, Facebook users should only be seeing posts in their news feeds from pages they've opted to follow. Anyone who's been annoyed by sponsored posts knows that's not entirely true, but the majority of the time, if a news article appears on a feed, it's because a user's friend, or a page the user follows, posted it. 

Now, as Filip Struhárik, editor and social media manager at Denník N, wrote in a Medium post on Monday, in six markets, Facebook is removing posts from users' main news feeds and relegating them (unbeknownst to the users) to the Explore page. Thanks to Explore, your main newsfeed—the source of everything from updates on your high school friends' babies to conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton—will become what Mashable writer Kerry Flynn calls a "battlefield of 'pay to play,' where publishers have to pony up the dough to get back into the News Feed." 

So far, those six markets include Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia. 

It's a nightmare for publishers that don't have the money to ransom their posts from the Explore page back into the main feed, but it also means individual users will have even less control over what appears in their feeds from the pages they follow. As Struhárik explains, users will still see content from their friends (and ads) on their main feed, but anything from pages they follow, including news sources, is in danger of being moved to Explore. 

A Facebook spokesperson told Mashable that they have no current plans to test the feature globally, and claimed the new feed was in response to user feedback: "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." 

While that may be true, it's easy to see this spiraling into a class system for the news on Facebook, where users will only see content from the pages that can afford to pay to have their content on the main newsfeed. What if only the Fox Newses of the world were able to pay? Or the Breitbarts? For a company that's already under fire for selling ads to Russian companies trying to influence the 2016 election, it's not exactly reassuring. 

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