Following various controversies around how their system works, and how Facebook may or may not have used the module to influence the news cycle, The Social Network has announced that it’s getting rid of its Trending News section once and for all.
As explained by Facebook:
“We’re removing Trending to make way for future news experiences on Facebook. We introduced Trending in 2014 as a way to help people discover news topics that were popular across the Facebook community. However, it was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to news publishers on average. From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful. We will remove Trending from Facebook next week and we will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API.”
It seems like a fairly throwaway line – “no one was using it anyway” – but really, the Trending News section has been a headache for Facebook for some time.
As you may recall, back in 2016, Facebook was caught up in controversy over suggestions that it manually amplified and/or supressed stories in its Trending headlines, sparking questions of the company’s role in the media cycle. Research shows that an increasing number of people use Facebook to get their news and information, so manipulation of the stories presented is clearly editorial bias.
But Facebook has maintained that it’s not a media company (and shouldn’t be regulated as such), and in response to the reports, The Social Network sacked its Trending news team, and switched the control of the module over to algorithms.
That’s also seen mixed results – and now, Facebook’s decided to do away with it entirely, and move on from the news discovery element.
But as noted, a lot of people still use Facebook to get news content – what happens to them?
According to Facebook:
“We’ve seen that the way people consume news on Facebook is changing to be primarily on mobile, and increasingly through news video, so we’re exploring new ways to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news that matters to them, while making sure the news they see on Facebook is from trustworthy and quality sources.”
The most immediate measure on this front is Facebook’s ‘Breaking News’ label, which is currently being tested with a range of publishers.
In its current iteration, publishers can use the Breaking tag once per day, with the tag remaining active for up to six hours. But while the tags will help make these posts stand out in feeds, applying it has no impact on a post’s News Feed ranking, so it’s likely not as effective as the Trending section for spreading news coverage.
Facebook’s also working to put more focus on local news with their ‘Today In’ sections, also currently in test mode.
That better aligns with Facebook’s efforts to help inform communities, and prioritize local engagement as opposed to broader news coverage.
But the key note in Facebook’s announcement may be around video content.
Again, as explained by Facebook:
“We will soon have a dedicated section on Facebook Watch in the US where people can view live coverage, daily news briefings and weekly deep dives that are exclusive to Watch.”
As part of The Social Network’s efforts to boost its video offerings, it’s looking for ways to generate more interest in Facebook Watch. One of those could be through dedicated news video content – reports have suggested that Facebook’s close to announcing a series of partnerships with news outlets, including Fox News and CNN, to air exclusive news programming on Facebook Watch.
The Wall Street Journal says that Facebook has offered some publishers between $1 million and $3 million for one-year contracts, with News Corp, BuzzFeed and ATTN among other organizations in discussion.
If usage trends do indeed show that more Facebook users are interested in news video, removing Trending – and potentially replacing it with video content from approved news partners – could be a great way to both boost Watch, while also exerting a level of editorial control over what appears in the Trending list, without directing editing it themselves.
Either way, the removal of Trending makes sense. It’s caused the company a lot of issues, and if it were significantly boosting engagement, you can bet getting rid of it wouldn’t even be a consideration.
It’ll be interesting to see what Facebook does next on this front, and how they might use the change to boost Facebook Watch.