Facebook is a fascinating place.
It is also completely infuriating.
During the days leading up to, and during, Hurricane Barry and its effects on Livingston Parish, our staff produced 62 stories alone, not to mention photos, videos, and interviews with local officials and residents.
To say that life and limb were “risked” wouldn’t be accurate; the weather never got that bad, but several staff members did wade into it to make sure they got the story.
Enter Facebook, where a vast majority of people go for their breaking news at this point in the media cycle.
During the time wherein Barry dominated the headlines, roughly five days, The News produced every ounce of information we could and used our online free section “Breaking News” to push the content. Our staff focused on the pieces we were told were important – storm placement, forecasts, river stages, sandbag locations, emergency numbers … the supposed “essentials” of disaster response and preparation.
And as we posted on Facebook, people picked it up and therefore so did we, trying to push as much as we could. The News was helping, we figured, and we pumped out all the content we could muster.
The way Facebook delivers that content, however, is what’s infuriating. The simplest way to put it is Facebook will deliver to you what it thinks you want. Your timeline is populated by posts from people and specific pages where you spend the most time.
At least, according to Facebook.
That delivery system is based on a mathematical algorithm that takes a lot of variables into account. Personal preference is one major piece; general area interest in a subject matter is another, but there’s another of which many don’t know – Facebook limits a page’s singular posts to certain percentage of their “page follow” total.
That percentage? Tested and proven at 1 percent. The only way to grow past that? Organic interaction, which then forces it along to people who are friends of those who interacted (again, at the 1 percent level) or paying to boost the post.
What this causes is confusion. A story we published about river levels and crests on Friday morning (when they increased to terrifying levels) was delivered to a nice little lady from Walker on Sunday morning. We were then accused of falsifying information, being lazy, and that The News should be sued.
Needless to say, that was not the only complaint The News received over the five-day news cycle.
Should that nice lady from Walker be expected to understand the variable nuances of the Facebook algorithm, which changes with the shifting of the wind? It makes information delivery nearly impossible during times of breaking news.
There are two issues that should be mentioned, that work against The News and anyone else trying to push information at any time.
Facebook is a business and it has to make money, hence the algorithm and audience restrictions. Second, many people started ignoring our content when we went to $5 a month for website access. That’s understandable; people are on a tight budget and social media itself has strengthened the notion that news should be free and inundated with advertisements to subsidize the content.
But during times of disaster? Or breaking news like shots fired? Perhaps the algorithm should be put on pause.
There is a way to sort your timeline by “Most Recent Posts” first, and while that doesn’t affect that page posts are only reaching a certain percent of a page’s population, it does mean that anything that might be coming up on your feed is current.
Otherwise, Facebook users could be getting stories from the first days of the disaster that spell “doom and gloom,” which is both confusing and infuriating. All because their Aunt Sally liked the story a few hours before.