Facebook is removing trending news and replacing it with a newsfeed focused on local breaking news and live videos. 66% of Facebook users get their news from the social media giant. As the preferred medium is video, the new section will be heavily focusing on Facebook Live and other video content forms. Live-streaming video via social media forces us to consider how we think about breaking news – its speed, spread and defining influence in bearing witness to public life.
When Facebook introduced trending news in 2014, it was revolutionary. For the first time on a global scale, you could see what news everyone else is following on the world’s biggest networking platform. From earthquakes to the Kardashians, from Trump to Royal Wedding– whatever made the news or whatever went viral, you could get the Facebook stories in real-time from real people.
Facebook became a personalized broadcaster and earned a lot of criticism for it. According to Facebook’s latest press release, only 1.5% of users clicked through the stories on the trending news section. You don’t need to be a marketing genius to understand that this is poor performance. “From research, we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful,” says Alex Hardiman, Heads of News Products at Facebook.
Instead, Facebook is rolling out a dedicated breaking news section. These include a “breaking news” label and a dedicated section for local news called “Today In”. A focus will be on the local news and video live coverage. According to CNET, the initial results are promising with click-through rates as high as 4% and 11% of users sharing the stories with their friends.
Is Facebook Live the new online journalism?
Every week seems to reveal another Facebook Live video that makes the news or becomes the key piece of evidence and controversy in public debates. Live-streaming services challenge journalism today and change the way audiences consume visually driven content. Photos and videos have an inherent realism, which audiences associate with greater authenticity says media philosopher John Durham Peters.
Our cultural milieu, including news and social media, is increasingly visually oriented. Visuals are increasing audience attention, emotional reactions, and engagement. Facebook knows that and has designed their whole user interface to capitalize on visual engagement. The phenomenal growth in video over the last two years emphasizes this, hence the development of Facebook Live. It seems that Facebook is pushing users to consume and produce more Facebook Live videos. Facebook says live videos generate 10 times more comments than regular ones.
Is Facebook Live the New citizen reporting?
While the large media organizations are still predominantly the producer and distributor of news content, audience-led forms of journalism have become normal in the contemporary media environment. Although the user-generated content is not new, what is new is the “spreadability” of such content via social media. With enough traffic those live videos can become the object of formal news coverage as well as generating mainstream media coverage of an event or issue.
Spotlight on Ethics in a Social Media Driven World
However, the everyday Facebook user is not seeing himself as a journalist. Therefore, Facebook users won’t adhere to any journalistic ethics. They simply film what’s important to them or what’s happening right now in their lives. But it’s worth reflecting that we have a collective responsibility as Facebook users. Do we really need to live-stream from crime scenes or as a car accident by-stander? What value are we adding? How many thousands of people watched, reacted to and even commented on the live-streamed suicide of a 12-year-old? Are we really so desensitized? Are we literally ‘amusing ourselves to death’ as suggested by media scholar Neil Postman way back in 1985?
While Facebook denies its role as a media company, it may need to revaluate its responsibility. The Facebook Journalism Project are first attempts to establish stronger relationships between Facebook and the news industry. The roll-out of this Breaking News ‘Today In’ clearly demonstrates the direction Facebook is taking. “Research suggests that reading local news is directly correlated with civic engagement,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated in a separate post. “If we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together.”
But every time Facebook rolls out a new service it has a direct impact on our real-world communities due to the ubiquitous presence of social media in our lives. We as consumers need to be aware of this and balance our input. Facebook also needs to be aware of this and if the goal Is making progress together, ensure that proper standards and community values are inherent in the new service.
This will change the way we perceive and consume news.