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Facebook rolls back ‘nicer’ News Feed that boosted mainstream publishers

The post-election changes to the News Feed were meant to be temporary, the company says

Photo: Michele Doying / The Verge

Facebook has reversed a change to its News Feed algorithm that prioritized authoritative news sources, even though some employees asked that the “nicer” News Feed become permanent, according to The New York Times.

Following a sharp increase in misinformation on the platform in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 US presidential election, Facebook changed how it weighed the quality of news sources based on a “news ecosystem quality” (NEQ) score. Outlets including the Times, NPR, and CNN saw Facebook traffic rise, while more partisan sites that published incendiary or misleading news about the election saw Facebook traffic decrease.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg had authorized the change to the News Feed in the days after the election when it became clear that unverified stories about election fraud and incorrect results were running rampant on Facebook. At a recent company meeting, some Facebook workers asked if the “nicer News Feed” could become permanent.

But the change was always meant to be temporary. “This was a temporary change we made to help limit the spread of inaccurate claims about the election,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in an email to The Verge. “News stories make up a small portion of what people see on Facebook overall, and political news makes up a smaller fraction of that news content. 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.”

Facebook took other steps to try to limit election misinformation, but with mixed results. The platform announced in October it would ban US political ads after the election, and it planned to label posts about the election and redirect users to authoritative information. It also restricted paid promotions of election-related posts.

The company says since the election, it’s seen a decline in the amount of political content on the platform.