Facebook rolls back News Feed change that prioritized mainstream media

Facebook had tweaked its algorithm to combat a spike in viral misinformation.

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The logo of Facebook is seen in Davos, Switzerland Januar 20, 2020. Picture taken January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

Facebook has rolled back a News Feed change designed to promote reliable news coverage in the aftermath of the US election. Last month, the New York Times reported that the company had made an emergency tweak to combat the surge in misinformation about missing ballots, miscounted votes and other forms of unproven interference. Facebook reportedly increased the weighting of an internal value called NEQ (news ecosystem quality), which tries to quantify the value and rigor of an outlet’s journalism. According to the New York Times, this meant greater visibility for mainstream publishers such as CNN and NPR, and less for more partisan sites such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats.

But now that’s changed. In a fresh report, the New York Times explains that Facebook has now rolled back these “break glass” measures. “This was a temporary change we made to help limit the spread of inaccurate claims about the election,” Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson told the Times. “We’re still ensuring that people see authoritative and informative news on Facebook, especially during major news cycles and around important global topics like elections, COVID-19 and climate change.” Before the reversal, some employees had asked whether the tweak could become permanent, according to the Times. Clearly, Facebook decided that it was necessary to switch everything back.

The algorithmic tweak wasn’t the only way that Facebook tried to tackle misinformation during the US election. Before the vote, Facebook added warning labels to more than 180 million posts that included misinformation. The company also removed 265,000 pieces of content that broke its rules against voter interference. It temporarily banned political advertising once the polls had closed on election night. While everything was still being counted, it ran a notification that said “votes are still being counted.” Then, the following week, Facebook took down pages after the election that were spreading misinformation with the handle “Stop the Steal.”  

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