How Facebook Wins When You Argue With ‘Friends’ About Gaza

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In the past few weeks, it’s likely that your Facebook feed has taken on a very different tone than the routine photos of people’s children or pets, quiz results, shared listicles, and occasional links to a news article or piece of social commentary. Instead, many users’ News Feeds are peppered with articles, rants, and pages on Israel and Hamas, all perpetuating the poster’s particular brand of unique (or not-so-unique, and sometimes not-so-well-informed) commentary. In an article by The New York Times titled, “Facebook’s Change of Face,” Katherine Rosman makes the same, increasingly common observation about the social network. In addition to sharing their usual BuzzFeed posts and passing along the typical Upworthy videos, users are becoming more and more engaged in sharing articles about unfolding news events, adding their commentary, and opening up issues of national and international politics and news up for furious debate. But Facebook, for the moment, isn’t necessarily agreeing with users’ assessments that they’re seeing more of this politically motivated sharing of news articles. Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice president for operations and partnerships, told The New York Times that the type of content that users post on Facebook is neither more nor less “newsy” than it has been in the past. “People use Facebook for the things that matter to them most,” he said to Rosman. “That includes celebrating a friend’s birthday and important news developments.” Osofsky noted that when the U.S. government shut down last fall, 17 million users had 45 million interactions related to the shutdown within its first three days. During this summer’s World Cup, 350 million users generated three billion posts, comments, and likes related to the event. In the three weeks leading up to the publication of Rosman’s article on August 8, 24 million people generated more than 100 million interactions related to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. That sounds like a lot of “newsy” posts, likes, and comments. While Facebook might not want to characterize users’ activity on the network as increasingly newsy, it can’t deny that the traffic the social network refers to other sites, via the articles and other content that users posts, is increasing. In a recent report, social media analytics firm Shareaholic declared Facebook “the social network to end all social networks.” In June 2014, Facebook drove 23.39 percent of all visits to sites within Shareaholic’s network, up from 21.25 percent in March. Of the top eight social networks that Shareaholic analyzes — Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit, YouTube, Google+, and LinkedIn — Facebook was the only one to drive a greater share at the end of the second-quarter than at the end of the first, meaning that its referral traffic is the only one to have grown during the quarter. “Simply put,” Shareaholic’s Danny Wong writes, “Facebook is winning the referrals war because users can’t seem to get enough of content shared by close friends and relatable acquaintances” — even when such content sparks fierce debate and the occasional blocking of a “friend,” or at least the less drastic action of hiding the offender’s post from appearing in the News Feed.