Explore feed test could cause political consequences in Serbia

Photo: Maurizio Pesce; Facebooks F8 Conference

The changes that the Facebook company introduced to the social network it controls might have political consequences.

Facebook is gradually implementing changes on a global scale which affect the accessibility of content of this social network. Currently, six countries have been chosen as test fields: Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Cambodia – and Serbia.

Facebook removed unsponsored Page posts from the News Feed and out of users’ sight, to a new Explore Feed section in the left sidebar. The sponsored posts, however, will remain in the “normal” News Feed.

These changes will force Pages to invest more in the visibility of the content they post, giving Facebook a chance to make more money from selling advertisement services .

The first results have become visible within days. They once again confirm that Facebook, owned by one of the biggest companies in the world, is developed in the interest of big businesses and profit, and not the billions of individual users.

Last week Facebook pages in Slovakia reached two thirds less users, while sixty largest media pages in that country reported 4 times less engagement (likes, shares, comments) than before. The results are similar in Guatemala and Cambodia. However, the biggest media pages (those whose web sites have a regular visit, that have a large online readership and who already invest in marketing) partially improved their Facebook engagement, unlike smaller media organizations.

Similar analysis for Serbia is not yet available, but we can say that Masina’s Facebook page had 58% less reach and 72% less interactions last week.

Facebook turns against its users

Screen shot

Sure, Facebook is a private company, and yes, they are not obligated to adapt their business politics to the users’ requests although they do state community welfare to be their credo. If occasionally they do act in accordance with the users’ requests, it is in accordance with the wishes and interests of those with enough economic and political power to make a compelling argument.

We must keep in mind that Facebook is one of the companies paying absurdly small taxes in comparison to its skyrocketing profit. Aggressive lobbying allows this company to influence the field of political decision making on the account of its financial power. During the last several years a set of tax regulations have been introduced in the US and some other countries. These regulations allow Facebook and similar companies to leave ridiculously small amounts to the public budget through taxes. Serbia is one of the countries in which the taxes which Facebook pays aren’t calculated based on the profit it makes thanks to the local users.

It’s uncertain for how long this test is going to last, but already it is obvious that besides economic it might also have political consequences. Simply, those who lack the financial means to advertise, or don’t already have large visibility and readership will remain invisible to Facebook users.

The political party in power and president Aleksandar Vučić already “rule” the mainstream media, which makes social networks an ever more important channel of communication for the opposition. If these changes take root it will be hard to repeat the success which the opposition parties and candidates experienced on Facebook in the last presidential election campaign. An even more important question is how will civil initiatives, campaigns, solidarity actions and the like, which have so far used Facebook as their main communication channel, reach this network’s users in the future. The situation is similar in the field of media – smaller media organizations, those advocating for social changes, mostly reach their public through Facebook. With the freedom of information already under attack and the media already under pressure in Serbia, even without the rumors about the control of social networks, these changes are a gift to the ruling elites in contribution to the maintaining of the status quo.

Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

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