Facebook Addresses ‘Pay To Play’ News Feed Claims

By Justin Lafferty 

Several Facebook marketers have been angry with the site, feeling that posts have been hidden from fans as a way to get businesses to pay for advertising models such as promoted posts. These feelings were brought to the forefront when a New York Times writer tried an experiment to see if Facebook really is suppressing unpaid posts. Facebook responded Monday, saying that engagement among people with followers has risen 34 percent year-over-year.

New York Times reporter Nick Bilton noticed that not long after enabling subscribers, people were sharing his posts with regularity. He usually received triple-digit likes and double-digit shares on his most popular stories, but he noticed a major change in recent months, after Bilton hit 400,000 subscribers. He said the four columns he shared in January averaged 30 likes and two shares.

So Bilton tried paying for better news feed exposure, through Facebook’s $7 promoted posts:

To my surprise, I saw a 1,000 percent increase in the interaction on a link I posted, which had 130 likes and 30 reshares in just a few hours. It seems as if Facebook is not only promoting my links on news feeds when I pay for them, but also possibly suppressing the ones I do not pay for.

Facebook proudly informed me in a message that 5.2 times as many people had seen my post because I had paid the company to show it to them. Gee whiz. Thanks, Facebook.

Facebook responded Monday to claims by Bilton and others that the company is essentially trying to extort money from page administrators by hiding free posts as a way to get them to pay for advertising:

There have been recent claims suggesting that our news feed algorithm suppresses organic distribution of posts in favor of paid posts in order to increase our revenue. This is not true. We want to clear up any misconceptions by explaining how the news feed algorithm works.

First, in aggregate, engagement – likes, comments, shares – has gone up for most people who have turned the follow feature on. In fact, overall engagement on posts from people with followers has gone up 34 percent year-over-year.

Second, a few data points should not be taken as representative of what actually is happening overall. There are numerous factors that may affect distribution, including quality and number of posts.

Facebook has gone through a lot of trouble the past few months trying to show reasons why pages’ reaches have declined. In November, the site told journalists that overall, engagement has risen after changes to the news feed algorithm. The negative changes to reach and engagement that page admins saw around that time were a correction, as the site worked to place posts with which users would engage higher in the news feed and show fewer posts with which users would not engage.

A couple weeks ago, Facebook said it discovered a bug that led to reported reach to be lower than reality for many pages.

However, many users and marketers are still feeling as if they’ve been squeezed by Facebook and the news feed algorithm commonly known as EdgeRank.

Readers: Which side do you believe?