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Facebook imagines a News Feed without the news [The Interface]

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Over the past 18 months, the news has given Facebook nothing but trouble. The problems began in May 2
 
October 23 · Issue #11 · View online
The Interface
Over the past 18 months, the news has given Facebook nothing but trouble. The problems began in May 2016, when Gizmodo published its incendiary report alleging that Facebook “routinely suppressed conservative news” from its Trending Topics module. After that outcry came the 2016 election and its aftermath, which caught the company flat-footed and ill-equipped to handle fast-spreading fake news. More recently, publishers began to abandon its Instant Articles product, disappointed that the fast-loading format failed to generate as much revenue as traditional article links. 
It’s enough to make you wonder what Facebook would look like if it got rid of news content altogether. And it turns out that Facebook has been wondering, too!
A new system being trialled in six countries including Slovakia, Serbia and Sri Lanka sees almost all non-promoted posts shifted over to a secondary feed, leaving the main feed focused entirely on original content from friends, and adverts.
Publishers in these countries can still force their filthy links into the News Feed by paying to promote a post, but otherwise the Slovaks and Serbians are seeing nothing but engagements and baby photos. News is relegated to a separate feed, similar to the “Explore” tab that recently rolled out in America.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because Facebook has basically recreated … Instagram? Instagram’s all-photo and -video feed has been something of an oasis in our troubled times, and it’s not hard to imagine why Facebook wouldn’t want to see whether it could run that play in the big blue app.
Says Facebook:
“With all of the possible stories in each person’s feed, we always work to connect people with the posts they find most meaningful. People have told us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family, so we are testing two separate feeds, one as a dedicated space with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated space for posts from Pages.”
What effect does this have on publishers? You can probably guess! Here’s Filip Struhári, a journalist at the Slovakian Dennik N, with the early word: 
Pages are seeing dramatic drops in organic reach. Reach of several asked Facebook pages fell on Thursday and Friday by two-thirds compared to previous days.
Sixty biggest Slovak media pages have 4 times fewer interactions (likes, comments, shares) since the test. It looks like the effect in Guatemala and Cambodia is the same.
If you’re a publisher, this looks like a catastrophe in the making. My own feelings about this move escalated gradually today from “that’s a weird test” to “that is potentially very significant” to “oh my god let’s hope this newsletter takes off, and soon.” 
In a tweet, News Feed honcho Adam Mosseri presented it rather clinically, as a kind of science experiment: “It’s about friends’ personal stories more than links — question is do people learn and enjoy using a separate feed for public content or not?”
The news from Slovakia suggests that no, they do not. And that’s consistent with what happened the last time Facebook introduced a separate feed for public content — it was called Facebook Paper, and hardly anybody used it before it was shut down last summer.
In any case, I find it extremely hard to square this test with Facebook’s separate, and apparently earnest, efforts to support journalism — and to give Instant Articles a publisher-friendly reboot. Facebook knows the power of defaults — and surely it can anticipate how publishers will suffer if their links were relegated to a standalone content zone.
At the same time, it could dramatically reduce the incentives for people to create fake news and to share it. The interests of publishers and democracy may not, in this case, be aligned. And if it turns out that people spend more time in a news-free News Feed, the interests of publishers may not count for much.
Toward the end of the day, Mosseri published a blog post trying to play down the significance of the test. “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,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation — but that was not our intention.”
And yet, if the test is successful, why wouldn’t Facebook roll it out beyond the test countries? The question answers itself.
I suspect Facebook will learn a lot from this test and abandon it. But I’m lousy at seeing into the future. In the meantime, it’s another good reason for me to build a newsletter audience — and for publishers everywhere to have a plan B.

Democracy
Meet the People Who Will Defend Google, Facebook and Twitter Before Lawmakers
Why the Fact-Checking at Facebook Needs to Be Checked
Hopes Dim for Congressional Russia Inquiries as Parties Clash
Business
Tech Giants Are Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent
How Facebook’s Master Algorithm Powers the Social Network
Facebook leases 80,000 square feet in Los Angeles County
Elsewhere
Snap’s Misfire on Spectacles
Ex-Twitter Engineer Seeks to Show Women Can Climb Only So High
Launches
Snapchat dangles referral traffic with link sharing from other apps
Takes
Why Facebook Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Buy tbh
Bots are becoming a danger to Twitter's existence, and Wikipedia might have the solution
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Retweeted Alleged Russian Trolls
And finally
On Friday we were overjoyed to learn that LinkedIn is exploring the idea of making original shows. I asked you to send me your LinkedIn show pitches, and Interface reader Dave Collins sent us this pitch for “Down Round.”
Description: co-founding couples, after experiencing a downturn in their inane tech businesses, have to find a new office for their downsized company. Hosted by an adorable couple a la “Fixer Upper”, these cofounders have to pick a new office to house their demoralized employees. After viewing three very similar choices, they pick an office and the annoyingly cheerful couple remodels it. Every episode the new office looks the same because it’s a fucking office. Everyone leaves slightly disappointed. Sponsored by LinkedIn Premium.
Thank you, Dave, and consider your project greenlighted. 
Talk to me
Tips, comments, and responses to casey@theverge.com. 
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