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Facebook’s new algorithm change is what makes publishers so afraid of Facebook

Tfw your content is in other people’s hands.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Today, Facebook announced that it’s tweaking its algorithm so that users see less stuff shared by publishers and brands and more stuff from friends and family.

This isn’t a nightmare scenario for publishers, but it’s pretty grim; websites and news organizations are leaning more and more on Facebook for growing their audiences, and Facebook just weakened a key traffic driver for them.

But don’t listen to me, here’s what other people in media are saying:

This isn’t even the first time this year that Facebook has changed the way it drives traffic to publishers, but it’s a demonstration of precisely why people are so afraid of Facebook.

When Facebook last year rolled out Instant Articles, its direct-to-Facebook publishing tool, people were initially apprehensive but everyone eventually began joining in. The Washington Post, for example, started pushing all of its content to Instant Articles.

For such publishers, today’s announcement reflects the risk of making your distribution reliant on a third-party platform. Though Facebook says places making content that’s truly viral — the stuff that gets shared ad nauseam by your friends and family — won’t be penalized, that’s small comfort. But if publishers are still interested in giving Facebook money to promote their content, then Facebook would be delighted for them to keep spending their dollars on Facebook.

So what are publishers thinking?

I’ve reached out to representatives at Politico, Vice, Gawker Media, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post and Politico to ask how this affects their editorial strategy, or their relationship with Facebook. I’ll let you know when I hear back.

Representatives for the Washington Post and Mic declined to comment. A spokesperson for Vox Media* provided the following statement:

All eight of the Vox Media brands have a strong presence across many platforms, and we are strategic in reaching audiences wherever they are. Facebook is a valued partner and we'll continue to work closely with them as they evolve their products.

Here’s a statement from New York Times spokesperson Jordan Cohen:

We appreciate Facebook's transparency and we intend to closely monitor this situation. We very much value our audience on Facebook. Still, while we are not yet in a position to forecast exactly what the change will mean to us, our subscription model and levels of direct traffic make us less dependent on Facebook than some other publishers.

And here’s what the guy who does social media for Mother Jones told me on Twitter:

* Vox Media is the parent company of Recode.

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