Facebook is taking a big chunk of the news out of its news feed and, in so doing, retreating from a crucial part of its business.

Having transformed the way billions of people consume and share news online, in some cases the way news organisations produce it, Facebook now wants to replace news with more content from friends and family.

Venturing into the news business has brought Facebook revenues but also a boatload of trouble. The platform has been blamed for the spread of fake news, misinformation and hateful content online.

News publishers even changed their business models to max out on Facebook as a way to get to audiences. But the platform's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is batting away his critics, saying he's doing right by the people who matter most to him - his users.

"Up until now, Facebook has kind of been doing a push towards more media content on their news feed. They've been pushing for video, and a lot of different publishers have been creating video that's specifically for Facebook," explains Surya Mattu, engineer and data reporter at Gizmodo.

"From what it sounds like they're going to change that now by devaluing what publishers are doing and kind of promoting what family and friends are saying."

However, critics speculate the CEOs announcement is simply a business decision.

"Facebook is a business, it's a publicly traded company," says Sue Halpern, writer and scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College. "Every announcement that Mark Zuckerberg makes is a business decision. And another motivating factor is that they're losing the demographic battle. Younger people are much less engaged with Facebook than ever before."

Every announcement that Mark Zuckerberg makes is a business decision. And another motivating factor is that they're losing the demographic battle. Younger people are much less engaged with Facebook than ever before.

Sue Halpern, writer and scholar-in-residence, Middlebury College

The changes to Facebook's news feed will have a far greater effect on news producers than consumers. Consider the lengths publishers have gone to in order to make their material work on the platform.

"It's gotten a lot of publishers really freaked out," said Alan Wolk, a leading TV industry analyst. "Publishers had really gotten to a point where the vast majority of them were getting their traffic from social media...And too many of them have gone into a habit where they're creating news stories and just basing their whole business model on driving traffic from Facebook."

The relationship that news organisations had with Facebook was always "complicated". Now, having been given notice of being de-emphasised in the news feed, they have a right to feel aggrieved and fearful of what the future holds.

READ MORE: How to fight 'fake news' in a post-truth environment

Whether Zuckerberg's recent announcement truly aims to counter misinformation or actually succeed in tackling hateful content online, it's clear the company is under attack from both sides of the Atlantic.

"Facebook and a lot of the other tech companies were called to account by the United States Congress among other legislative bodies around the world...so there's you know great incentive on the part of Facebook to do something," says Halpern.

"The fact is that Facebook changes their algorithm all the time, but they don't always make an announcement about it. So the fact that they made an announcement about it is probably a response to that very challenge."

The coming changes to the news feed will be significant, but they won't fix Facebook's fake news problem.

News stories will still be on the site. It's just that they won't originate in the news feed. Users will post stories that will then be shared. And given what we know about social media ecosystems, news bubbles and comfort zones - fake news will still find audiences.

Contributors:

Sara Fischer, media reporter, Axios

Sue Halpern, writer and scholar-in-residence, Middlebury College

Surya Mattu, engineer and data reporter, Gizmodo

Alan Wolk, author of Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry

Source: Al Jazeera