Facebook Referral Traffic Plummeting as Platform Signals Departure from News Sector

Recent unpublicized changes made by Meta-owned Facebook have resulted in a significant decline in referral traffic to media outlets, according to feedback from over half a dozen publishers. The impact of these changes has been particularly pronounced for publishers focused on hard news content, leading to notable reductions in their daily traffic.

An anonymous executive from a major media company stated that substantial negative impacts have been experienced by prominent publishers. One publisher revealed a year-over-year decrease of over 30% in referral traffic, while another cited a roughly 40% drop. Notably, these figures were observed among publishers generating a significant volume of lifestyle-oriented content. Publishers with a greater emphasis on hard news content saw even more substantial declines.

A news-focused publisher described the situation as Facebook “nuking everyone’s traffic.” Despite adjustments to its algorithm aimed at mitigating the problem, the referred traffic remains significantly below levels from a year ago.

This situation is notable given Facebook’s historical role in driving significant traffic to digital publishers. In its prime, the platform propelled articles to viral status, creating a substantial influx of clicks for news outlets. However, over recent years, the volume of traffic from Facebook has considerably diminished, negatively affecting outlets reliant on the platform’s traffic. The recent changes compound this decline in referral traffic.

While a spokesperson for Meta declined to comment, the alterations align with the company’s public stance on news. Meta’s executives have openly expressed a shift away from news engagement, marking a departure from their previous efforts to engage with publishers. This strategic pivot is occurring concurrently with global legislative efforts to compel major tech companies, including Meta, to pay publishers for content shared on their platforms.

In response to such legislative pressures, Facebook has threatened to remove news content entirely from countries that enact such laws. This move has sparked backlash, exemplified by Meta’s decision to remove news content from its platform in Canada after the country passed such legislation earlier this year.

Meta has consistently maintained that publishers rely more on Facebook than vice versa. In a March statement, the company emphasized that news articles constitute less than 3% of content displayed in users’ Facebook feeds and that news does not constitute a significant portion of the platform’s global offerings.

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