Asian publishers brand Facebook news feed split ‘terrifying’ and ‘unfair’

Facebook has gone live with a pilot scheme that sees publisher content split from the main news feed in two Asian markets – Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Publishers in these markets – plus those in Slovakia, Serbia, Bolivia and Guatemala – found their posts had been moved, without warning, from users’ main feed to an obscure new ‘Explore’ feed last Thursday.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the main feed has been filled sponsored content and posts from friends. According to a Medium post by a Slovakian journalist, organic reach for publishers fell by “two-thirds” after the move.

Now, two publishers in Sri Lanka and Cambodia have said the scheme is well-underway within their respective markets – and the effects are already being felt.

Visal In, the co-founder of Cambodian news site Khmerload, said the changes had already impacted the reach of their posts.

“The change was sudden and I believe that most publishers are still struggling to adapt to it. Our Facebook reach has dropped significantly, but interestingly, our traffic from Facebook is still strong.It is too early to say anything more about it because we need to learn how to navigate though the change first.

“It is a bit unfair because we have spent so much time working on our page and all of the sudden, the change negatively impacts our page. However, I believe we can gradually adapt to it because it is not our first time to adapt to new Facebook changes that happen without rigorous engagement with users and communities.”

Visal In

Asked why he thought Facebook had chosen Cambodia as a testing ground, In added: “Most Cambodian people are very active on Facebook. The population are not too big and not too small. It is a perfect testing ground for them. Perhaps, there won’t be much to lose if [they] test it here.”

Meanwhile, Indi Samarajiva, the founder of Colombo online food guide Yamu, said: “We haven’t depended on Facebook for traffic for years now. They’ve been pushing publishers out for a while now; this is just the final kick out the door. You can still pay to play, and Facebook will definitely make money here.

Indi Samarajiva

“People have said their referrals have dropped like 50 per cent from Facebook so far. That would scare me if they hadn’t been dropping for years already. Here, we depend more on organic and search traffic and that’s probably a better model, for us at least. Some publishers may be in real trouble, but Facebook was never a platform that was especially friendly to content. They want people to stay on Facebook all the time, not go out to the open web.”

However, in an attempt to alleviate publishers’ fears, the social network’s head of news feed Adam Mosseri said that the scheme wouldn’t be rolled out globally.

He wrote in a  Facebook blog post:

“Some have interpreted this test as a future product we plan to deliver globally. We currently have no plans to roll this test out further… There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore.”

Despite these assurances, media consultant and Splice Newsroom founder Alan Soon said publishers were right to be unnerved about the project.

He said: “The test is terrifying for publishers. While Facebook is telling everyone to move on, there’s nothing to see here, the impacts in these markets is dramatic – they would easily destroy traffic referrals for publishers who count on Facebook.

“The bigger question is what exactly are they trying to test. How about this for a speculative answer: Will people actually miss seeing Page posts in their news feeds. I think I know the answer to that.”



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