Facebook has been rolling out plenty of changes to its algorithms for what its users see in their news feed recently, penalizing “engagement bait” posts and reducing the amount of posts users will see from publishers and brands to emphasize what friends and family share.
Now, they’re looking to alter what kind of news people see in the remaining percentage of “news” posts, emphasizing “high quality” news that is “trustworthy, informative, and local,” and that could have major sports implications. But first, how are they going to decide what counts and what doesn’t?
By surveying users, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a post on the site Friday:
As noted elsewhere, this is a problematic idea given how many previous surveys have returned highly-partisan news as more “trusted” than sources that strive for fair portrayals. Beyond that, Facebook essentially already has this information, as people are likely to rate as “trusted” what they’re already liking and sharing. So this is mostly a punt on their part to shift the burden of determining what news is “high quality” to their users.
It looks to go about as well as their moves from human editors to algorithms. It’s somewhat understandable why Facebook doesn’t want to deal with determining what’s “trusted” themselves or hiring outside experts to do it, as any result’s going to be criticized from some quarters, but just relying on surveys of users seems like a poor way to do this.
But beyond the implications for actual news, this could wind up being a big deal for sports. It’s not entirely clear if sports news is considered as part of the “4% of News Feed” news is expected to fill following the changes, or if it’s separate, but Zuckerberg’s overall comment that “As a result, you’ll see less public content, including news, video, and posts from brands” would seem to impact the many sports outlets that rely on Facebook.
Moreover, this “trusted” discussion could have impacts on sports, especially as many of the outlets these surveys are likely to ask about do at least some sports coverage. Would a finding that The New York Times isn’t “trusted” make it harder to see sports stories the paper posts? What about The Washington Post, or The Associated Press, or CBS? If these surveys are going to be about overall brand perception rather than specific section-by-section breakdowns, it seems likely people will be reacting and evaluating the outlets in question based on their coverage of news (and perhaps especially political news), but that could have impacts for sports coverage too.
And what about outlets who only cover sports? Are they going to be included in this “trustworthy” survey too? That could be interesting, especially when it comes to giants like ESPN and the fanbases like the Patriots’ that claim ESPN hates them. Or when it comes to people rating ESPN based on their feeling of if the network is “too political” or not. But it’s not just them; there are lots of sports-only publications out there.
While they maybe have the advantage of avoiding political baggage (although not always; see ESPN) associated with news coverage, they still could be impacted by these changes. Sports seems like a particularly bad area for “trustworthy” polls, too, as a lot of fans’ responses would seem likely to be associated with however the outlet in question has recently covered the teams they support. Whether that coverage has been fair or not. So there’s a whole lot of possible downside here for sports as well as news, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. Are we all going to have to get used to cries of “Fake sports!”?