Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

NYT: After the U.S. Election, Facebook Adjusted Its News Feed to Show News Instead of Hyperpartisan Pablum

Kevin Roose, Mike Isaac, and Sheera Frenkel, New York Times:

In response [to widespread conspiracy myths], the employees proposed an emergency change to the site’s news feed algorithm, which helps determine what more than two billion people see every day. It involved emphasizing the importance of what Facebook calls “news ecosystem quality” scores, or N.E.Q., a secret internal ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism.

Typically, N.E.Q. scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds. But several days after the election, Mr. Zuckerberg agreed to increase the weight that Facebook’s algorithm gave to N.E.Q. scores to make sure authoritative news appeared more prominently, said three people with knowledge of the decision, who were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

The change was part of the “break glass” plans Facebook had spent months developing for the aftermath of a contested election. It resulted in a spike in visibility for big, mainstream publishers like CNN, The New York Times and NPR, while posts from highly engaged hyperpartisan pages, such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, became less visible, the employees said.

I guess my first question is why the hell the quality of the news source is not a primary ranking signal but is instead a minor one. Is it a cynical reason — something to do with more time spent on Facebook arguing with duelling links from the Federalist and Woke Sloth? Is it because, should those rankings become public, it will lead to yet another round of claims that tech companies are uniquely biased against American conservatives, even though anyone can tell Red State is a trash heap without remotely considering its political leanings?

Whatever the case, I’m not sure it was particularly successful. Roose operates a Twitter account with every day’s ten best-performing link posts from U.S. Facebook pages. Here’s the list posted November 2, covering links published two days before the U.S. election:

  1. Fox News

  2. Donald J. Trump

  3. Fox News

  4. The Dodo

  5. Dan Bongino

  6. Franklin Graham

  7. Mark Levin

  8. Robert Reich

  9. Fox & Friends

  10. Donald J. Trump

There is something righteous about a post from the Dodo sitting in amongst this mess. Anyway, here’s the list posted yesterday, covering link posts primarily from Sunday:

  1. Dan Bongino

  2. Occupy Democrats

  3. Daniel D.

  4. Fox News

  5. CNN

  6. CNN

  7. Heather Cox Richardson

  8. Dan Bongino

  9. Franklin Graham

  10. Donald J. Trump

This is not cherry-picking; this list is fairly representative of the last week or so. What I found most notable, in the wake of this Times report, is that Occupy Democrats is sitting just below Dan Bongino on the November 23 list. Wasn’t this move by Facebook designed to reduce the visibility of pages like both of those examples? I see a greater mix of sources in recent lists posted to that account, but I still see plenty of inflammatory bullshit ranking highly.

It seems to me that increasing the power of that quality score might go a long way towards improving the news value of Facebook users’ feeds. Even in its half-baked state, it is too bad that this is apparently a temporary change.