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Survey Suggests Facebook Has a Bigger Problem Than Fake News

By Adam Levy - Updated Apr 17, 2017 at 2:25PM

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Facebook is missing out on a huge opportunity because nobody takes it seriously as a source for news.

The idea of fake news spreading across the internet has dominated the real news for the last six months or so. Facebook (META 7.19%) has been near the center of the controversy, as it dominates the time people spend on the internet, and many people say they get at least some of their news from the social network. About 6 in 10 adults get their news from social media, and 44% of them get news from Facebook specifically.

When Facebook made a major overhaul to its website design in 2013, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "What we're trying to do is give everyone in the world the best personalized newspaper." And while a large percentage of Facebook users report getting news from Facebook, very few take it as a serious source for news information. A recent survey from Ipsos conducted for Buzzfeed found that just 20% of users even remembered the headlines they read on Facebook.

If Facebook's goal is still to be "the best personalized newspaper," it's not doing a very good job.

Hand holding iPhone displaying Facebook app.

Image source: Facebook.

Missing out on a huge engagement opportunity

Facebook isn't exactly hurting for user engagement. Management says users spend an average of 50 minutes per day across Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. But most Facebook users don't go to Facebook in search of news stories. Just 25% of Facebook users open the app or website seeking to read the latest news, according to a Pew survey. That's in line with the Ipsos results that showed just 20% recalled headlines.

The survey results indicate that most people don't consider Facebook a serious news source like they do local television broadcasts or dedicated news websites and apps. Considering the Pew survey was conducted before the fake news controversy, it doesn't look like that's the only thing impacting the public's perception of Facebook.

Facebook's trending news section, its algorithm in surfacing news stories, and its work to balance public news with more personal updates and photos from friends all contribute to a jumbled mess of information that's easy to peruse, but hard to actually remember the specifics of.

But that means Facebook is missing out on a huge engagement opportunity as users spend their time getting (or confirming) news from other sources. Thirty-nine percent of Facebook news users also get news from local TV, and 33% go directly to news websites, according to the Pew survey. If Facebook was able to surface more relevant news stories for its users, those numbers might go down while engagement on Facebook goes up.

What's Facebook doing about it?

Despite its best efforts, Facebook hasn't really been able to do much to shed the public's perception of it as a news source.

It released a dedicated news-reading app, Paper, at the beginning of 2014. The company shuttered the project two and a half years later after it failed to attract a sizable audience.

Facebook is now working with publishers to develop Instant Articles, which are designed to provide a better news reading experience within the Facebook app. Instant Articles, as the name implies, load instantly, include a more mobile-friendly interface for articles featuring multimedia, and offer publishers the option of using native Facebook ads to monetize their content. But many publishers are unhappy with the monetization of Instant Articles, and some have ditched the format altogether.

Facebook, for its part, is focusing more on video than news these days. Video also represents a big opportunity to increase engagement -- although Facebook has yet to figure out a good way to monetize the format. The company recently added a dedicated video feed in its app, as well as seeding the section with premium short-form content, and it's testing new ad products to monetize video and share revenue with publishers.

If users don't come to Facebook for news, maybe they'll come for video.

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