Facebook's narrow definition of "news" had some pretty dire consequences for every publication that didn't fit it.
Starting in early 2018, Facebook has endured what Wired called "15 months of fresh hell" in a devastating recap published Tuesday. Scandal after scandal and data breach after data breach has led the public's trust in Facebook to plummet — and it all started with an engineering team's ironic attempt to build that trust in the first place.
Amid concerns that its good fortunes were about to go south, Facebook moved in early 2018 to build an algorithm that promoted "trustworthy news." That meant defining both trustworthiness and news, and "Facebook was having a hard time with both," Wired writes. The company eventually defined trustworthiness through user surveys about news publishers and then, apparently without much executive oversight, engineers decided news would be stories involving "politics, crime, or tragedy." In fact, one Facebook executive said they didn't learn about the engineering decision until recently, and when they did, they told Wired they "nearly fell on the f--king floor."
But the policy still took effect, and traffic measurer Parse.ly documented just how devastating it was. From 2017 to 2018, arts and entertainment content saw its Facebook referrals drop by a whopping 71 percent. Music saw a 65 percent drop, and both style and fashion and family and parenting went down by 61 percent. Facebook finally dropped the news definition in September 2018, but not until traffic dropped for pages across the board — and not until several news sites publicly called out Facebook for its flub. Read more about Facebook's failures at Wired.