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Facebook: News Feed changes aren't to blame for failing news websites

Speaking at SXSW on Friday, Facebook director of product Alex Hardiman said that a change in News Feed ranking wouldn't be enough to entirely decimate an outlet's traffic.

When we look at the publishers who aren't doing well, most likely it's because they're abusing the system in some ways. The content could be sensationalist, it could be misleading in certain ways.
— Alex Hardiman

Why it matters: Media companies routinely criticize Facebook for carelessly wielding its enormous power over their distribution and ability to reach readers. Just in the last two weeks, two websites announced they'll be shutting down following Facebook's decision to tweak its News Feed to emphasize news less.

"Shouldn't we be having a conversation about Facebook paying for the quality journalism that’s out there," CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter pushed back about the company's relationship with news outlets.

Still: "I think for us, we historically didn't distinguish between diff types of news,” conceded Hardiman of Facebook's longstanding approach of rewarding "viral" articles that garnered a lot of comments and clicks, even if they were not credible.

The reporters on the panel also had some compliments for Facebook:

  • "They’ve done a good job at creating products that serve consumers well," said Axios media trends reporter Sara Fischer of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Stelter praised the new ability to simultaneously block a Facebook user when deleting their abusive comments, along with the new tag for unverified news articles.