Facebook’s New Guidelines Offer No Help For Publishers

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach. The one that worries whether what you’re about to post will work on Facebook and achieve some level of decent organic reach. Worse, maybe you’ve overlooked something and this is the one that will have your page flagged for inappropriate content.

Facebook hasn’t made this any easier over the years as it has shifted and changed guidance as to what works and doesn’t within the News Feed. Following along with all the updates to what’s given more or less weight can be maddening. Concerns were amplified recently as reports emerged Facebook was testing moving all brand page posts outside the News Feed unless they paid to include them among the family and friends’ updates that would now take priority.

It’s likely those reports helped move along the recent release of a Publisher Guidelines repository that brands can reference when they’re evaluating their Facebook efforts.

Three Core Principles

The guidelines get into what publishers shouldn’t do but are framed within three basic principles of what content should be. Each one has a key sentence that shows just how latitude Facebook is giving itself and how little it understands – or at least acknowledges – the massive role it plays in the molding of the public discourse.

Meaningful and Informative: We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about, but we are in the business of connecting people with the stories they find most meaningful.

Right off the bat, this doesn’t pass the laugh test. “Picking which issues the world should read about,” in addition to being poorly written, is accurate enough to be considered Facebook’s mission statement. It does so through not only the application an algorithm that considers thousands of signals to determine which stories are shown to the user but also the foundational selection of what those signals are and will be.

Accurate and Authentic: People tell us that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most.

Wait, which is it? Are you saying people want informative stories or the ones that hit them right in the feels? Because if something is inauthentic and spammy I’m guessing it’s not super-informative. And if it’s super-informative it probably isn’t all that emotional. While I can’t believe we, as a society, are openly discussing what constitutes “truth” and “fact,” it remains that facts do exist and are clearly distinguishable from untruths. And unfortunately, because of other media factors in the current world, what resonates most deeply isn’t always what’s most truthful.

Represents Safe, Respectful Behavior: Sometimes we will allow content if newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest even if it might otherwise violate our standards.

But you just said you weren’t in the business of picking which stories people should read? You also said you were looking for stories that resonated with people? The minute you make an editorial judgment, any editorial judgment, you are imposing your worldview and opinions on the audience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means Facebook bears a great measure of the responsibility for what’s shown. Not only that, but the stories that are both informative and resonating are those that are uncomfortable to discuss.

Guidance For Publishers

To ensure compliance with these guidelines, and with the various problems with each category in mind, publishers are then expected to adhere to the following directional ideal.

Be informative, but in a way that’s also emotional and “authentic” while not sharing anything that shouldn’t be discussed in the church narthex.

That’s…tough. As much as Facebook wants to put this on publishers and tell them they need to understand what their audience is reacting to, getting to the audience in the first place is seemingly akin to landing on the moon. Timing, tone, content and other factors have to line up just right for someone to even see the story organically, without throwing promotional dollars at Facebook to achieve the reach that would have possible five years ago without breaking a sweat.

No transparency is offered as to how Facebook makes all these determinations and no responsibility is taken for having done so. That’s disturbing for a platform 68% of American internet users turn to for news. If a television network reached 68% of the American public it would be under such scrutiny it could barely operate.

More than that, the guidance offered here could change at any moment based not on what’s best for the online populace but for Facebook’s financial health and position in the marketplace.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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