Facebook's latest news feed tweak: This time, it's personal

By Sarah Frier

Visitors outside Facebook's California HQ. Facebook's updated its algorithm to favour posts from friends and family. Photo / AP
Visitors outside Facebook's California HQ. Facebook's updated its algorithm to favour posts from friends and family. Photo / AP

Facebook will make changes to its News Feed rankings, highlighting posts from friends and family over those from publishers and brand pages that users have "liked."

The company said it's making adjustments after receiving feedback from users who complained that they sometimes miss important updates from the people closest to them. The changes will penalise some online publishers that rely on traffic from people who follow their pages.

Corporate pages on Facebook may see a decline in the number of people who see their content and in referral traffic to links they post, according to a company blog post. Facebook said links shared by its 1.65 billion users on their personal profiles can continue to go viral and reach large audiences.

Facebook has drawn media companies and brands to create pages on the social network in recent years by offering exposure to huge groups of people.

For example, BuzzFeed posts dozens of links a day to the 7.4 million people who "like" its page on Facebook. CNN, with 22 million followers, and The New York Times, with 11 million, also update their pages frequently throughout the day.

"We appreciate Facebook's transparency and we intend to closely monitor this situation," Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said in a statement. "We very much value our audience on Facebook. Still, while we are not yet in a position to forecast exactly what the change will mean to us, our subscription model and levels of direct traffic make us less dependent on Facebook than some other publishers."

BuzzFeed and Business Insider declined to comment on the changes. Representatives of Vice Media Inc. and the Huffington Post weren't able to be reached for comment.

To accumulate more followers, many organizations have purchased Facebook advertising. But the value of a "like" has been on the decline as Facebook has slowly prioritised posts from friends or other initiatives, such as live video.

"We've heard from our community that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about," Lars Backstrom, engineering director at Facebook, wrote in the blog post. "We encourage pages to post things that their audiences are likely to share with their friends."

Adam Mosseri, the vice president for product management of the News Feed, wrote a separate post explaining that the amount of data flowing through the world's largest social network has grown substantially since the early days of Facebook, generating far too much information for any one person to consume. Facebook has learned that people want to see posts that are authentic, not promotional, he said.

"We work to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading, sensational and spammy, to make sure people see those less," Mosseri wrote. "If the ranking is off, people don't engage and leave dissatisfied. So one of our most important jobs is getting this ranking right."

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