Facebook often promotes content without engaging users in meaningful interactions. The empty promotion of this content does not produce the types of interactions that are appealing to advertisers and the metrics that measure views do not measure the quality of the interactions. Facebook incentivizes clickbait while meaningful content from well-known creators is edged out of users’ News Feeds.
The New York Times reports that media websites are experiencing signs of distress, including layoffs and budget cuts. Furthermore, Facebook is changing the way users interact with content, which decreases advertisers’ security in their ability to reach readers. Facebook is unveiling Instant Articles, which boast a tenfold increase in speed compared to standard mobile web articles, a 20 percent increase in the overall number of articles read and a 70 percent decrease in the likelihood that readers abandon articles, according to Facebook.
Since advertising structures are based on viewership, Facebook’s statistics on Instant Articles make it seem appealing to content creators searching for more views. However, Facebook has used a very low standard for what qualifies as a “view” of a Facebook video, according to vlogger Hank Green and research by Sonja Foust. Unlike on YouTube, where viewers must stay with the video for at least 30 seconds for their views to be counted, Facebook counts a view after just three seconds, regardless of whether sound is enabled.
This metric makes it seem like Facebook videos get many more views than YouTube videos, which is a cheap attempt by Facebook to undermine the years of community development by content creators on YouTube. Viewers who watch a video for more than 30 seconds are engaging more meaningfully with the content and the advertised product than those who watch for only three seconds. Also, viewers on YouTube subscribe to specific content creators. Furthermore, YouTube content is notable for its tendency to foster communities around content, whereas Facebook videos are geared towards shares and sensationalism. The videos that tend to go viral on the social media platform are not personal. Rather, they are cooking videos, interesting animated infographics and videos of cute animals. Nevertheless, both Facebook videos and YouTube videos are measured in views, even though this term has a different meaning on each platform. Thus, Facebook promotes videos uploaded through its platforms, putting YouTube videos at a serious disadvantage on Facebook.
The way in which Facebook has integrated video into its News Feeds may be an indicator of how Instant Articles will work. If Instant Articles compromise the view metric in the same way that videos have, media websites and content creators may still be in trouble. Their exposure to Facebook users’ feeds will increase, but this increase does not ensure quality interactions with the content. If the trajectory of Instant Articles matches that of Facebook videos, the quality of the articles may suffer for clicks and views.
To thrive, media websites must place their trust in Facebook’s algorithms, which leverage users’ interests and tailor content specifically to what users will like. Alternatively, media websites must tailor their structures to the needs and preferences of users.