New data casts doubt on Facebook’s commitment to quality news

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked recently about his commitment to quality journalism on the platform, and the social network made some changes earlier this year that were supposed to promote higher-quality content in the News Feed. But some recent data on the best-performing news brands on the site seems to show that, if anything, some high-quality new sources are getting less engagement on Facebook and lower quality sites are getting a lot more, which seems like the opposite of how things should be working.

NewsWhip, a social-media metrics company, tracks what it calls the “most engaged” sites on the network as measured by likes, comments, reactions and shares. In its latest ranking for the month of April, Fox News climbed from third place to first with more than 30 million engagements, while the previous leader—CNN—dropped to second with 24 million. The Daily Mail rose to fourth place from seventh and a site called Daily Wire, which specializes in alt-right news stories, climbed to eighth place with about 14 million engagements.

NewsWhip notes that in March, one of the main losers in Facebook traffic were sites that tended to focus on viral entertainment, such as LadBible and Unilad, as well as political sites like Daily Wire. At the time, this downturn was seen as evidence that Facebook’s tweaking of the algorithm was having an effect, and reducing the visibility of clickbait and other cheap content. But last month those sites all showed a bit of a recovery or at least held their ground.

Does this mean Facebook’s algorithm changes aren’t having the desired effect? Not necessarily. With any ecosystem as gigantic as Facebook’s, changes from one month to the next could be caused by any number of things. Or it could be that enough people said they trusted Fox News and the Daily Mail, and therefore those sources are getting ranked higher, since Facebook is using surveys to see who the most-trusted news outlets are.

As Facebook’s head of news, Campbell Brown, admitted in a recent interview with CJR, measuring trust is a difficult thing to do when it comes to the news, since plenty of people are more than happy to say they trust sources simply because they align with their existing views. No matter what Facebook does, Brown agreed it would be accused of picking winners and losers—which is exactly what’s happening with the NewsWhip numbers.

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