Facebook confirmed that it has in the past few days rolled back a change that lifted news from authoritative outlets over hyperpartisan sources after November’s election, signaling a return to normalcy for the social network.
The change involved boosting the weight that Facebook’s news feed algorithm assigned to an internal publisher quality score known as “news ecosystem quality,” or N.E.Q. It was implemented several days after the election as part of Facebook’s emergency “break glass” plan to combat misinformation during the critical postelection period, while votes were still being counted.
The change resulted in an increase in Facebook traffic for mainstream news publishers including CNN, NPR and The New York Times, while partisan sites like Breitbart and Occupy Democrats saw their numbers fall. After the election, some Facebook employees asked at a company meeting whether the “nicer news feed” could stay, according to several people who attended.
But they were told that the “break glass” measures, including the N.E.Q. change, were never supposed to be permanent.
“This was a temporary change we made to help limit the spread of inaccurate claims about the election,” said Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman. “We’re still ensuring that people see authoritative and informative news on Facebook, especially during major news cycles and around important global topics like elections, Covid-19 and climate change.”
Other measures Facebook has developed to combat political misinformation and hate speech have been scaled back or vetoed by executives in the past, either because they hurt Facebook’s usage numbers or because executives feared they would disproportionately harm right-wing publishers, several Facebook employees told The Times last month.