Facebook is changing its news feed to favour paid advertising. This is making it harder for activist groups to get their message out there.

A USi Facebook post with 17 likes. A few months ago, this would have been several hundred

A USi Facebook post with 17 likes. A few months ago, this would have been several hundred

Union organisers and activists have always had mixed feelings about Facebook.

On the one hand, it’s a corporation out to make a profit. It doesn’t respect our privacy, and sometimes undermines our organising by deleting pages it feels clash with its business interests. And more and more, we are having to defend members who say things on Facebook that get shared more widely than they intended.

On the other hand, it’s a great way to reach a lot of people really quickly. As the statistics below show, Facebook is by far the greatest source of traffic to our website, bringing exponentially more hits than twitter.

USi website statistics showing the importance of Facebook as a referrer

USi website statistics showing the importance of Facebook as a referrer

Every story that we have had that has gone viral has done so through people sharing the story on Facebook.

But as this video explains, Facebook is shifting its priorities to paid advertisers. Users will see more and more paid for content in their streams, and less and less from people and organisations they have chosen to follow.

We have certainly noticed the effect on our Facebook page. At the time of writing, we have over 5,000 followers. A few months ago, a story we shared would be seen by an average of 250 – 500 people. This is still only 5% to 10% of our followers, but it’s a significant audience.

This audience is also big enough for us to gain the critical mass needed to help a story go viral. If 200 people see a post, there is a much greater chance that several will like and share it than if only 20 see it, and we have seen some posts really take off and reach thousands of people.

But Facebook recently announced changes to the way it selects what it shows you: it prioritises content from paying advertisers and established news websites.

This undermines the function of social media as an alternative news source, and it’s part of an insidious process called “the filter bubble” that uses the power of the internet’s corporate giants – Facebook, Google and so on – to control what users see.

We have certainly noticed the difference at USi. A typical story posted on our Facebook page is now seen by around 30 people, which is less than 1% of our followers. This seriously undermines Facebook’s usefulness as an organising tool for ourselves and other activists.

As Alex White points out, we will need to get creative if we want to reach people on Facebook.

Facebook also prioritises content that is liked, shared and commented on. In the short term, if you see something you like on Facebook – including posts on our page, please like and share them so that other people can see them too,

And in the long run, it’s just another reminder not to put all our eggs in one basket when organising online.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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