Digital Publishing Platforms
3 mins read

“Trending” no more… Facebook removes news feature, but it’s not all bad news for publishers

Facebook users around the world have started receiving notifications that the company is removing the “Trending” news feature from readers’ News Feeds.

While this appears to be consistent with Facebook’s recent policy of reducing content from brands and publishers—so people see more updates from friends and families, especially ones that receive a lot of engagement—the company is downplaying the impact on publishers.

Alex Hardiman, Head of News Products at Facebook, says that the Trending section “accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to news publishers on average. From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful.”

Nevertheless, it can be a cause for concern for publishers, since according to a survey from Pew Research Center, 50% of US adults get news from Facebook alone.

To make way for future news experiences on Facebook, the Menlo Park giant is introducing other ways to help people stay informed about news, with an emphasis on trustworthy and quality sources.

Some of the options being explored are:

  • Breaking News Label: Putting a “breaking news” indicator on users’ posts in News Feed, in addition to testing breaking news notifications.
  • Today In: A dedicated section called Today In that connects people to important news from local publishers, officials and organizations.
  • News Video in Watch: A dedicated section on Facebook Watch where people can view live news coverage, with weekly, exclusive deep dives.

While these are in the initial testing phase, Facebook says that the early results from testing the “breaking news” label have led to a 4% lift in click-through rates, a 7% lift in Likes, and an 11% lift in shares, while publishers featured in the “Today In” feature are seeing an average of an 8% incremental increase in distribution, i.e., outbound clicks.

Taking a look back, the social network has faced considerable criticism earlier for the Trending News section when it used human editors to curate the news, with complaints that its selection was biased toward certain political ideologies. When Facebook replaced its editors with an algorithm, it backfired as its “trending” bar often highlighted news of dubious authenticity from disreputable sources. Probably the string of controversies was one of the reasons Facebook decided to do away with the feature entirely.

The company has a different take on the reasons, of course. To explain why Facebook is taking this step, they said, “We’ve seen that the way people consume news on Facebook is changing to be primarily on mobile and increasingly through news video. So we’re exploring new ways to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news that matters to them, while making sure the news they see on Facebook is from trustworthy and quality sources.“

With its renewed emphasis on quality, Facebook is also gradually introducing features that give people more background information about the publishers and articles they see in News Feed, with additional features to provide more context for people so they can decide for themselves what to read, trust and share.

So while one controversial news feature is on the way out, there are multiple new ones being introduced and tested, with an enhanced focus on quality, and greater engagement and distribution potential.

The overall net-net impact appears to be trending positive for publishers.