As part of their ongoing effort to reduce the reach and impact of fake and misleading content on their platform, Facebook has announced a new News Feed algorithm update which will limit the reach of content shared by profiles which regularly post a heap of links in quick succession.
As explained by Facebook:
"Our research shows that there is a tiny group of people on Facebook who routinely share vast amounts of public posts per day, effectively spamming people's feeds. Our research further shows that the links they share tend to include low quality content such as clickbait, sensationalism, and misinformation. As a result, we want to reduce the influence of these spammers and deprioritize the links they share more frequently than regular sharers."
Rather than ban these users outright, Facebook's merely limiting them, reducing their capacity to flood the network with questionable content, and give such posts a disproportionate boost through sharing activity.
This is one part of how groups of Macedonian teens reportedly generated significant revenue from their fake news efforts in the lead up to the 2016 US Presidential election, copying pro-Trump stories to their own, purpose-built websites, then sharing them with as many Facebook supporter groups and Pages as they could to generate viral traffic - and make money off ad impressions.
So what counts as a 'vast amount' of posts in this context? According to Facebook's VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri, it relates to people who are sharing 50+ posts per day - though not everyone who shares content at that volume will see the reach of their posts reduced. Mosseri also notes that this is "only one signal among many others that may affect the ranking prioritization of this type of post".
The update will only apply to links - it won't have any impact on the ranking of individual domains or Pages, nor will it relate to the sharing of videos, photos, check-ins or status updates.
The change makes sense - over the years social platforms have all imposed rate limits along similar lines to limit spam and bot activity. On Twitter, for example, you can only (technically) follow 1,000 profiles per day, on Facebook there are limits on Likes per day. The difficult thing with post limitation is Facebook obviously wants you to be sharing as much content as possible on the network, and spending more time on Facebook. As such, Facebook must be fairly confident that their qualifiers will only net these spammy users, as opposed to limiting others - though if you're sharing 50+ posts per day, it may be time to assess your activity either way.
As noted, this is just the latest in Facebook's efforts to limit the reach of fake and misleading content - other measures include showing related articles alongside questionable content before a user shares it, prompting them to think twice about the story's validity, and warnings on posts which have been disputed by third party fact-checkers.
The increased emphasis on improved education was also, in part, behind Facebook's recent decision to change their mission statement from "Making the world more open and connected" to "Bring the world closer together", while information accuracy was also one of the key elements of focus highlighted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his recent 'Building Global Community' essay, in which he noted that:
"Social media is a short-form medium where resonant messages get amplified many times. This rewards simplicity and discourages nuance. At its best, this focuses messages and exposes people to different ideas. At its worst, it oversimplifies important topics and pushes us towards extremes."
This latest measure is one of their steps towards changing this for the better. Time will tell how much impact Facebook can have on this element.
In terms of Page impacts, Mosseri says that:
"Most publishers won't see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed. Publishers that get meaningful distribution from people who routinely share vast amounts of public posts per day may see a reduction in the distribution of those specific links."
Again, Facebook's data must show such impacts will be limited, so it's unlikely to cause any significant headaches for Page managers.
As explained by Facebook:
"By removing the ability to customize link metadata (i.e. headline, description, image) from all link sharing entry points on Facebook, we are eliminating a channel that has been abused to post false news. We also understand that many publishers have workflows that rely on overwriting link preview metadata to customize how their content appears to audiences on Facebook. We're committed to a solution that supports them."
The ability to edit link previews enables publishers to better customize their posts for their Facebook audience, and the change is significant. Facebook says they'll be releasing an alternative system sometime soon.