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Facebook is cutting traffic to publishers in favor of user-generated content

Facebook’s latest algorithm change is bad news for publishers.

A woman holding a laptop with a picture of the Facebook thumbs up icon in it. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Bad news, publishers: Your Facebook reach is probably going to shrink.

Facebook is tweaking its News Feed algorithm to prioritize posts that come from users’ family and friends, which means you’ll soon see more posts from actual people like your cousins or your college roommates.

But seeing more posts from friends and family also means seeing fewer posts from non-human accounts, specifically publishers like BuzzFeed or the New York Times, newsrooms that rely heavily on Facebook’s massive audience for web traffic and ad revenue.

We don’t know precisely how much traffic publishers will lose, but any decrease in audience is bound to cause panic. Facebook VP Adam Mosseri, who manages the News Feed product teams, confirmed that publishers will see a "small but noticeable" decrease in organic reach.

“It will vary a lot by publisher mostly based on how much of their referral traffic or their reach is based on people who actually share their content directly,” Mosseri said.

In other words, publishers that derive traffic from users sharing their stories might not notice much of a difference. Those that rely on their official brand page will be hit more heavily.

The change comes at a time when publishers, like BuzzFeed, are depending heavily on platforms like Facebook for content distribution. Publishers have always been very much at Facebook’s mercy when it comes to reaching people through News Feed. When Facebook decided two years ago that video was important, publishers flocked to video. When Facebook decided more recently that live video was important, publishers jumped to that, too.

The irony, of course, is that now those live videos that Facebook is paying publishers to create should, theoretically, reach fewer people. The algorithm change is “agnostic of media type,” Mosseri said, which means that video, live video and even Instant Articles posted by publishers will be impacted.

“There are more and more publishers on Facebook and they’re publishing more and more often,” Mosseri said, “and we want to make sure friends and family stay a core part of the experience.”

Two additional factors here: Reports surfaced in April that “original sharing” was declining on Facebook. It’s possible that prioritizing posts from users, not brands, might help get more regular people posting.

The other is that tweaking the algorithm is a clear business move. If organic reach decreases for publishers, they may be more likely to pay Facebook to promote a post instead.

Mosseri said Facebook won’t actively push publishers to sponsor their posts in lieu of the change, but it won’t have to. The organic reach numbers will be enough of a push for brands that are impacted.

The algorithm news comes on the same day that Facebook published a set of News Feed Values for the first time, a list of guidelines the company adheres to when making changes to its almighty algorithm. At the top of the list of values: “Friends and Family Come First.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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