The algorithm revealed: these news feed values explain what you get to see on Facebook

In a blog post ‘Is it news? Five tips that will make your story newsworthy’, the ‘updated’ news values by Harcup & O’Neill were listed: exclusivity and follow up, conflict and bad news, celebrity and entertainment, magnitude and the power-elite and relevance. Their research complements the ‘taxonomy news values’ of researchers Galtung & Ruge, containing twelve news values which are, to name a few, frequency, unexpectedness, reference to something negative, reference to elite nations and people, meaningfulness and so on. In this blog post, I argue that these news values are not necessarily overrated, but certainly outdated.

News values

First, the used article was written in the pre-social media era and did not keep any technical interference like algorithms and filter bubbles in mind. It seems like the researchers realized this as well. In their newest research they updated their updated news values (are you still following?) by adding factors like shareability, surprise, audio-visuals, drama, good news and the news organization’s agenda.

News feed values

Second, research shows that especially people under thirty years old use social media on a daily basis. Moreover, the most used social medium for news is Facebook, and on this social media platform not only news values ‘decide’ what news you get to see, but also the (ever changing) algorithm. Considering that, it is weird that the algorithms are so untransparant. Okay, you could check the technical, difficult updates Facebook gives you, but for normal people these are like reading a different alphabet. One researcher decided to sort out Facebook’s patents, press releases and other guide lines and listed the news feed values in order of importance:

  1. Friend relationship
  2. Explicitly expressed user interests
  3. Prior user engagement
  4. Implicitly expressed user preferences
  5. Post age
  6. Platform priorities
  7. Page relationship
  8. Negatively expressed preferences
  9. Content quality

From this list can be concluded that your friends, user history and interests (both explicitly and implicitly expressed) are considered the most important factors based on which your timeline is created, and content quality is the least important factor. Combining this knowledge with things like shareability, surprise, audio-visuals, drama and good news, it is not surprising that cat movies, funny video’s and surprising advertisements (to name a few) are prominent on a lot of timelines.

Concluding: not only modern news values, but also news FEED values decide what you see on Facebook. In fact, there are two gatekeepers and two agenda-setters that decide what your timeline looks like at the same time; the algorithm from the side of Facebook, and the news values from the side of the journalist. Considering the fact that, according to research amongst PR-professionals, social media are considered to have a big influence on different stakeholders within and outside the organization, it is key to understand what factors influence what people get to see on their timeline. That gives the PR professional a clever insight in the ‘rules of the news feed’.

Anique Gijsberts is a fulltime news junky and parttime web editor. She writes for a Dutch news website and volunteers at Medium, the Communication Science magazine of the University of Amsterdam. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

2 Replies to “The algorithm revealed: these news feed values explain what you get to see on Facebook”

  1. Really interesting topic and I think that the argument of classic NV’s being outdated is a really good one. Also, I like the choice of literature so far because it gets a bit more technical and closer to Facebook’s reality. However, if you also want to compare close to Harcup & O’Neill’s approach, I can recommend having a look at Harcup & O’Neill (2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2016.1150193). This could be a valuable point criticizing the argument with more contemporary literature from the same authors. For instance, in this article, the authors introduce “shareability” as a modern news value that emerged with the advent of social media. Having a closer look to the technical side (as you proposed), on one hand, and some arguments related to news values, on the other, would certainly provide you with a good and feasible amount of criticism to the claims. Yet, as the Facebook algorithms are quite complex and the post has word count constraints, I’d maybe advise you to focus on just some shared characteristics from both theoretical lines.

  2. I agree with the other comment that the topic is interesting in itself and I, too, agree that the old news values seem outdated. Therefore, points for picking a relevant topic!
    I’m sure the fact is true but I think as a reader I at least would perhaps be more convinced of the point ‘most young people get their news from Facebook’ if it would include a source/link to literature of maybe a Pew report etc. Perhaps you were going to do that anyway, but if not I think it could be a nice addition!
    Also, I agree with Thilo that it might be easiest not to focus on all shared characteristics but just a few. They’re all interesting but merely because of the word limit of the assignment!

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