Snapchat recently began rolling out its redesign to users in the U.K., Canada and Australia. This strategy to group messages and stories from family and friends is not wildly different from the one Facebook announced coming to the newsfeed earlier this month. Both seek to prioritize and group meaningful interactions with family, friends, and direct connections within the platforms, further fostering two-way conversations and creating greater separation from content directly from brands and publishers.
Snap announced these changes at the end of 2017, when fake news plagued social media platforms and the issue of trust was at an all-time high. Around the same time, Facebook began testing its ‘Explorer feed’ in a handful of countries in an effort to streamline users’ newsfeeds by segmenting posts and content so that users just see posts from family and friends.
While the announced changes and tests weren’t yet widely available, they gave a glimpse into what users can expect this year as platforms attempt to alleviate the fake news problem that has plagued social media through app redesigns and refocused algorithms.
While this may sound like a good distinction, the move could have the opposite of its intended effect, leaving credible news sources wondering whether their content will be seen at all.
Although this is only one piece of Snap’s content curation, it is important that credible sources must be vetted and highlighted rather than hidden. By focusing on eliminating “fake news”, rather than providing clear trusted content, this re-design could exacerbate the problem. If “fake news” sources are included in the “professional” section, this could be seen as enhanced credibility for flawed or even sinister sources.
Besides the potential legitimization of poor quality news content, the Snapchat re-design could have a negative impact on news’ organizations ability to reach consumers, to share high quality news content. Social media is increasingly seen as the least trustworthy source for news, even though the majority use Facebook and social media for news.
According to an industry study conducted by Magid, 68% of respondents said that they use Facebook to get both news and information at least once a week. The study also found that 62% of respondents get news and information from the page of a local TV station and 76% use the site for national/international news coverage. While local news outlets would be most negatively affected by this type of content segmentation on social platforms, larger media outlets would also experience some of the brunt.
If consumers are getting news and information from social media sources at least weekly, a significant portion of their news consumption is happening there. The two behaviors have become so intertwined that consumers can’t tell them apart. It would be difficult (if not impossible) to uproot one without causing at least some damage to the other.
This anticipated difficulty has rung true as the segmented update to SnapChat hits the first wave of users. The effort to merge messages and stories from contacts has created a confusing user experience, and TechCrunch reports 83% of reviews for the update are negative with just one or two stars.
In October, Facebook’s test of the Explore feed was heavily criticized by publishers in the test countries who reported a massive loss in engagement and reach in the newly segmented newsfeed.
Facebook’s head of news feed Adam Mosseri said the company had no plans to roll out the Explore feed globally, a likely indication that the results of the test did not achieve their aims. While that statement provided some short-term reassurance to publishers heavily invested in the platform, last week’s announcement proved that this band-aid for publishers could be pulled off as quickly as it was applied.
Publishers and users alike have grown accustomed to the tweaks Facebook has made to the newsfeed algorithm over the years, but it was clear from Thursday’s announcement that the incoming changes stem from something bigger – a refocused strategy – leading to one of the most significant overhauls of the newsfeed in recent years.
The concern here, as with Snap’s recent redesign, is that trustworthy news organizations would lose the majority of their reach among consumers, even among those who have engaged with their content, or be forced to pay for that reach. This is a choice many challenged news organizations are unable to make, as shrinking budgets rarely allow for spending on external content promotion.
Overall, broadcast and print news organizations are seen by consumers to be the most credible and trustworthy news sources in America, and the content they create and distribute on social sites represents a substantial amount of the time spent on social platforms. If these platforms seek to improve the reliability and trustworthiness of the content they deliver, they need to showcase these vetted news brands with their users.
By limiting their exposure, social media sites like Snap run the risk of diminishing the news organization’s credibility. Publishers have made substantial investment in social content over the last few years with the expectation it would drive traffic for them. As the return diminishes, it could cause them to reduce the amount of content they push to these platforms. That’s not good for consumers as it relates to getting reputable journalism. And it may not be good for social platforms, as this news content is a notable portion of the content consumed through them. If news organizations are forced to pay for exposure, we believe they will post significantly less content. This could tip the balance of news content on social platforms even further toward slanted, fake and sinister news content.
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