A recent change in Facebook’s algorithm may affect the way people see breaking news.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced earlier this month that he wants the social media website to return to being a platform for positive interactions between friends and family. With the change, users will see more personal content on their news feeds. Zuckerberg said what is most important is that users have a more “meaningful” time on the website.

The change comes with a cost to area businesses and media organizations that are now waiting to see whether their posts get lost.

Zuckerberg said this change will cut back on items that Facebook users passively consume, namely news. According to an article from the Associated Press, under the revised regime, there will be fewer posts from brands, pages and media companies. There will be fewer videos, which Facebook considers “passive.” People will likely spend less time on Facebook as a result, the company says.

For Union County, that means pages such as Union County Emergency Services, which posts information the community generally needs to know, may not be seen.

“We use (Facebook) to push out incident information,” said Union County Emergency Services Manager JB Brock. “We sometimes provide educational material.”

Annette Powers, senior department specialist for Union County Emergency Management, who mans the organization’s Facebook content, said she utilizes the page to see what people want to know about. If there is an incident about a winter storm or a major wildfire, for example, the interaction on the page will show what people are worried about, and she will take that into consideration when she updates the posts.

“(Facebook) has evolved into a tool,” Brock said.

According to an article on Pew Research Center, a media website, in August 2017, 67 percent of Americans reported they use social media to find out what’s happening in the news. Two in every 10 people reported doing so often. That rose from 2016, when 62 percent reported getting their news on social media.

The changes on Facebook could shrink the social media giant’s role as a major news source for many people, according to the AP article.

Brock said he has to wait and see how this change shakes out. The Emergency Services’ posts generally
reach 5,000 to 10,000 people.

“That’s not bad in a county of 25,000 people, and some of them don’t live in the county,” he said.

The Observer and area radio stations that utilize Facebook to get information like breaking news and local-interest articles out to their followers are also bracing for what may happen.

Social media has changed the way people receive the news, said Karrine Brogoitti, publisher of The Observer. The Observer publishes three days a week, so Facebook has become a valuable tool to update the community and our readers on non-publishing days. It also keeps people informed of important breaking news, she said.

“When there’s something important for people to know about, our newsroom pushes the information out on The Observer’s Facebook page and lagrandeobserver.com, giving us the ability to reach people more quickly,” she said. “If our page is being pushed down with this new algorithm, people aren’t going to see when breaking news is happening at the time that it matters most.”

The pages aren’t going away. Followers will have to seek out the posts they want to see or change their settings to make sure the emergency and media posts appear on their news feeds.

“(The posts) will be there, but you’ll have to find it,” Brock said.

To ensure you can see the emergency posts from Emergency Services and local media pages, go to their page, click “Following” at the top of the page and select “see first.”

Social media isn’t the only way to receive emergency information, Brock added. He listed the Emergency Notification System, which distributes multimodal messages for those who sign up to receive them. The notification system is something users can sign up for on the Union County Emergency Services website. There’s also the Integrated Public Alert Warning System, a program utilized by local emergency services that reaches out to the cellphones in the area under law enforcement’s control.

The change in Facebook’s algorithm comes after a tough year for the company, which included congressional hearings on how Russia used Facebook to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Former executives and Facebook investors have spoken out about how social media sites might be hurting rather than helping society.

“Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Tweaking users’ feeds may cause the social media platform to lose some of its luster for content producers or media companies, as they face losing access to Facebook’s more than two billion users. Currently, there are 1.15 billion mobile daily active users. That number could decrease after the recent changes. According to an article on The New York Times website, Zuckerberg expects to lose users, but said “if people end up feeling better about using the social network, the business will ultimately benefit.”

The article emphasized that Facebook wants people to feel positive, rather than negative, after visiting.

David Ginsberg, director of research at Facebook, is quoted as saying, “When people are engaging with people they’re close to, it’s more meaningful, more fulfilling. It’s good for your well-being.”