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June 10, 2020, 10:15 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

The new Facebook News is filled with stories that are way too mainstream to do well on the rest of Facebook

On June 10, the most popular stories across Facebook were all NASCAR banning Confederate flags and Blue Lives Matter (with a sprinkling of dead kids). Over in Facebook News, though, things were different.

On June 10, the most popular stories on Facebook were all about NASCAR banning Confederate flags and Blue Lives Matter stories from far-right sites, with a sprinkling of dead kids. Over in Facebook News — which launched Tuesday in the U.S. after a few months of testing — things were different.

Facebook News — which so far is available only via Facebook’s mobile app, and which U.S. users can find by tapping the “more” icon in the lower right corner of the app screen — will feature news from over 200 participating publishers, including local news publishers. Some are being paid high licensing fees, and more are not being paid at all. Facebook’s previous “Today In” section, featuring local news from more than 6,000 towns and cities, has been folded in to News; tap “Local” to see it.) It also includes collections of stories “selected by the Facebook News Team for everyone to see” (i.e., chosen by humans); on Wednesday, if you tapped on “George Floyd Protests,” you were brought to a digest of stories and videos.

There’s also a “Suggested For You” section that, Facebook says, “will suggest stories for you based on things like: Your likes, shares and comments on Facebook; Your interactions on groups and Pages; Your activity on your News Feed.”

And if for some reason you want to see news chosen only by algorithm, you can.

The most notable thing about Facebook News is that it includes almost none of the stories that do well on the rest of Facebook. Here, according to CrowdTangle, were the most popular (measured in terms of total interactions) news stories on Facebook in the U.S. on June 10.

1. “NASCAR bans Confederate flags” (CNN)
2. “Trump says his administration ‘will not even consider’ renaming military bases named for confederates” (Fox News)
3. “NASCAR bans Confederate flag” (NPR)
4. “Charles Barkley dismisses ‘defund police’ movement: ‘Most cops do a fantastic job'” (Daily Wire)
5. “Sister of slain police: ‘Where’s the outrage for a fallen officer who happens to be African American?'” (Sean Hannity)
6. “Bodies found on Chad Daybell’s property belonged to children, prosecutors say” (People)
7. “Hundreds mourn David Dorn, retired St. Louis police captain killed in looting” (Fox News)
8. “NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace wants confederate flags banned from race tracks” (NPR)
9. “NASCAR bans confederate flags at its events” (NBC News via Occupy Democrats)
10. “Hundreds of thousands sign petitions urging the U.S. government to declare KKK a terrorist group” (Newsweek via Occupy Democrats)

That’s five stories about the Confederate flag/Confederate soldiers, three pro-police stories, one dead body story, and one KKK story. In contrast, here were the stories that appeared, in order, on the home screen of my News tab on Wednesday evening. (The stories changed each time I refreshed the screen, though.)

1. “‘It’s a lot of pain’: George Floyd’s brother tearfully demands police reforms during emotional hearing” (NBC News)
2. “Jon Ossoff wins Georgia’s Democratic Senate primary” (NPR)
3. “Trump will return to campaign trail with rally in Tulsa” (New York Times)
4. “Coronavirus is making a comeback in Arizona” (NBC News)
5. “2020 is the summer of the road trip. Unless you’re black.” (New York Times)
6. “Starbucks is closing up to 400 stores in shift to takeout strategy” (CNN)
7. “Amazon bans police from using its facial recognition technology for the next year” (The Verge)
8. “J. K. Rowling doubles down in what some critics call a ‘transphobic manifesto'” (NBC News)
9. “The protests come for ‘Paw Patrol'” (The New York Times)
10. “Upcoming Nintendo Switch exclusive canceled” (ComicBook.com)

That’s a lot of New York Times. In all my sifting, I saw stories from 92 publications (with way more stories from the Times than from any other publisher):

ABC News, AccuWeather, The Atlantic, Autoblog, BET, Billboard, Black Enterprise, Blavity, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, CBS News, CBS Sports, Complex, CNBC, CNET, CNN, The Daily Dot, Deadline Hollywood, Delish, E! News, Elle, Engadget, Entertainment Tonight, Entertainment Weekly, Entrepreneur, ESPN, Essence, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox Business, Fox News, Futurism, Gizmodo, Good Morning America, Health, Hollywood Life, HuffPost, IGN, iHeartRadio, Inc. Magazine, IndieWire, Jezebel, Lifehacker, MarketWatch, Mashable, Men’s Health, NBC News, The New York Times, New York Post, The New Yorker, NPR, PBS, PC Gamer, PCMag, People, Pitchfork, Polygon, PopSugar, Quartz, Refinery29, Remezcla, Reuters, Rolling Stone, The Root, Runner’s World, ScienceAlert, Screen Rant, Smithsonian Magazine, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, The Street, TechRepublic, Teen Vogue, Thrillist, Time, Today Show, The Undefeated, Us Weekly, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Variety, The Verge, Vogue, Vox, Vulture, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Wired, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, ZDNet.

A few other things I noticed scrolling through:

— There are very, very few politics stories — almost nothing about the Trump/Biden race, for instance. The Fox News headlines I saw were “Kentucky governor wants to ensure health coverage for ‘100 percent’ of black residents” and “Planets that have ‘significant airborne dust’ could be home to alien life, study says.” There are sections for Science & Tech, Health, Business, Entertainment, and Sports — no politics. (The “George Floyd protests” get their own section, too.) Also, no food.

— The stories in my “Suggested For You” tab appeared randomly selected, with no particular relevance to me (though at least they didn’t try to slip any sports stories in). I asked a few friends to send me their “Suggested for You” sections, too, and the stories there also appeared somewhat random.

POSTED     June 10, 2020, 10:15 p.m.
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