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The Impact of Facebook Page Editors on the Visibility of News Stories

The next Future of Journalism 2017 session starts with a paper by Kasper Welbers that explores the gatekeeping role of newspapers' social media editors (who manage their Facebook pages), in part by gathering engagement data for the posts on these pages through the Facebook API. Data gathering here is non-trivial, however, as it requires the regular re-gathering of engagement information over longer periods of time in order to establish engagement time-series.

First, there are significant differences between the publication time on the news Website, and publication on the Facebook page; U.K. papers are slower to push content to their pages than Dutch or Flemish papers, for instance. Also, not all news articles are posted to Facebook pages, but those that are not posted here still gain substantial engagement on Facebook through alternative channels.

Typical engagement patterns range from immediate attention on Facebook to a delayed publication on Facebook that initiates a new wave of engagement with an article. But it is difficult to accurately assess whether it really is the publication on the paper's Facebook page that kickstarts a new wave of dissemination, or whether there are other alternative channels that also drive such engagement.

Facebook page editors are therefore not gatekeepers in a traditional sense, as audiences are also able to bypass them easily. Yet their activities on the page also result in a considerable boost for the visibility of some stories, so they do have an impact.