Facebook secretly swaps out news in Cambodia

Facebook has made the recent decision to pivot from Fake News to No News in six countries — including Cambodia.

Sadly, this isn’t a joke.

Facebook has changed for Cambodians and no one got the memo. In its most recent effort to snag even MORE ad dollars, Facebook has moved posts from pages you follow into a totally different feed!

Didn’t get the notification? You’re not the only one…

Starting around October 19th, Facebook decided to run a few tests in six countries, including Cambodia. These “experiments” involved changing the content in your Newsfeed and creating a totally separate tab called the “Explore Feed.” Posts from pages you’ve actively chosen to follow (or “Like”) will be moved from your Newsfeed into the Explore Feed.

Can you find the Explore Feed? PC: Jenni Reid

This change will make getting your newsfix way more inconvenient — three taps more inconvenient. This doesn’t sound like much, but in a world that has moved towards swipe-ing, three taps can be overwhelming for the average, lazy user.

Facebook users who actively “Like” a page and willingly sign up to receive their content are high-intent users. They are more likely to engage with this content because it’s the content they want to see. Creating a Newsfeed without this curated content would make for a less enjoyable and engaging consumer experience.

In a country like Cambodia, where Facebook is the top news source for so many, these tests were a game changer for digital media outlets. Share-happy Cambodians love checking their Newsfeeds for the latest stories in hopes of finding something with a shock factor. Whether it’s fake news or real news, a good story is sure to become ubiquitous on Facebook in no time at all.  However, a Newsfeed without news might be the biggest shock factor yet. (Seriously, just chew on that.)

The consequences of this test aren’t totally known, but if traffic is any indication, there may be a negative impact. There are reports of online news outlets having their traffic more than halved during the time of these tests. This isn’t ideal when there’s an election just around the corner…

Facebook is no stranger to impacting elections. Recent reports have claimed Facebook promoted Russian-linked ads during the 2016 Elections in the United States, so concerns that this test occurred during a crucial time in Cambodia are not unwarranted. Cambodians get their news on Facebook, so removing this information from the Newsfeed definitely has some effect. The actual effect still remains to be seen.

This also brings up the debate around countries like Cambodia being used as “test markets.” Home to a reasonable-sized population (~16M) with almost half of the population possessing a smartphone, Cambodia seems like an ideal test market from the surface. That’s where Facebook went wrong. Perhaps more digging into these test markets would help Facebook understand the potential impact of their tests. Until then, these tests are seemingly still running so keep an eye out for any changes. Oh and this goes without saying but, don’t forget to explore your Explore Feed!

1 Comment
  1. Very clear write up about Facebook’s recent explore feed update and it’s (possible) consequences for Cambodia’s news & media landscape. FB’s choice to use Cambodia as a test country in this crucial time is terrible to say the least. And it’s lack of communication around it, makes it just more painful. We echoed similar concerns as mentioned in this article to Adam Mosseri, FB’s head of news feed, several days ago, but without any feedback.

    As for the explore feed. It’s not only difficult to find, it’s also a worthless alterative to find your favorite pages back. As its name implies, the “explore” feed is more about exploring / discovering new pages, than actually reading the posts of pages that you like.

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