Folha de São Paulo, the largest newspaper in Brazil both in number of followers on Facebook and also in print and digital circulation, has just announced they will no longer update their page on social media, due to the changes in Facebook’s guidelines. In January, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook would prioritize personal social interactions and that users would see less public content, such as news, videos, and posts from brands. According to Folha, the new guidelines could lead to an increase in filter bubbles and the proliferation of the so-called fake news.
According to Folha, the new guidelines could lead to an increase in filter bubbles and the proliferation of the so-called fake news.
Folha is a well-established newspaper in Brazil and proclaims to be nonpartisan. In its editorial project, from 2017, it claimed that it sought “to practice critical, nonpartisan and pluralistic journalism. And it emphasizes the analytical, interpretative and opinionated dimension capable of illuminating the facts”. Another argument they used when explaining the decision to quit Facebook was that the new algorithm could lead to people having less access to different opinions.
Taking into consideration that, according to recent research, more than half of people with internet access get their news from Facebook, this could be seen as an extremely risky move, especially because Brazil is Facebook’s third biggest market in the world and Brazilians spend 25% of their time online on Facebook. However, according to Folha, in 2016, there has been a significant decrease, from almost 40% to 24%, in access to their website through Facebook, with most of it now coming from searches on Google.
So what could this change mean for Folha? One recent example can help shed some light on the possible outcome. Last month, a Danish broadcaster stopped posting on Facebook for two weeks and, surprisingly, saw its traffic stability improve, even though there was a drop in visitors to their website. Folha de São Paulo could be heading in the same direction.
By removing their content from the social network, newspapers could have more readers directly accessing their website, which could increase traffic inside the page and readers would spend more time reading its content.
In a way, we could see the Facebook guideline change as something positive for mainstream news media and maybe even democracy. It can lead to more active searches from the readers, which could have a very positive impact on democracy since, as we all know, Facebook’s filter bubble tends to only show us what we already agree on and what we want to see. By removing their content from the social network, newspapers could get more readers directly accessing their website, which could increase traffic inside the page and readers would spend more time reading its content.
However, this is if we assume people have been sufficiently informed, aware of these changes and understand the way social media functions. According to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, it is easy to spread misinformation exactly because people find news and information from only a couple of websites and, for him, the solution to this is to increase social media literacy. Professor Odile Heynders also shares a similar opinion, she stresses that it is important to learn how to think critically in order to stop the proliferation of fake news. Therefore, Folha's decision might not impact the way people access their website that much, since it is already accessed by many people without going through search engines, but it will also not do anything to achieve the goal they set, that is, to decrease fake news and end filter bubbles. That can only be achieved through education.
In an extremely polarised country, as Brazil is at the moment, with the rise of alt-right politicians and the military taking charge of the security in Rio de Janeiro, it is indispensable that Brazilians have access to as many news sources as possible.
Also, any other type of searching will also, once again, stumble upon another environment that is controlled by algorithms, such as Google, which is why this change could be negative for small media. They will have to find other ways of making themselves heard and accessed since they will no longer have a social network in which they can spread their content. In an extremely polarised country, as Brazil is at the moment, with the rise of alt-right politicians and the military taking charge of the security in Rio de Janeiro, it is indispensable that Brazilians have access to as many news sources as possible.
From what I can conclude, this move could work in Folha’s favor, given that it is one of the biggest newspapers in the country. However, it is interesting to note that Folha charges its readers for their online content. Each person only has access to five publications per month. Whether Brazilians are willing to pay for the content, even though the price is very low, is yet to be seen, especially because more than 60% of Brazilians still use the TV as their main way to get information. But, all things considered, we can question if Folha’s motivation to remove their content from Facebook was not simply a marketing move to get more paying readers.