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How Facebook quietly destroyed the threat of Alternative Media – including Evolve Politics

Many of you will probably remember a time, just a few years ago, where left-wing alternative media outlets basically dominated social media in the UK – especially Facebook.

For the more politically engaged users, it seemed that every time you scrolled through your news feed you’d be served an article, news story or meme by the likes of Another Angry Voice, Skwawkbox, Novara Media, or The Canary (and, of course, Evolve).

During election times things got even crazier, with content created by independent left-wing outlets such as our own being seen by millions more ordinary Facebook users each day – and articles written by alternative voices routinely topped the charts in terms of views, beating nationwide mainstream media organisations who boasted literally hundreds of times more followers than us.

However, over the past few years, you might have noticed things on Facebook have changed just a little bit.

I mean, just ask yourself: when was the last time you saw a post by one of your favourite alternative media outlets on Facebook?

And, more specifically, ask yourself when the last time you even saw any news or politics article whatsoever on Facebook?

Nowadays, both answers will probably be ‘very rarely’ – and you’ll certainly be seeing far, far fewer posts about news and politics than you used to.

The reasons for these changes are numerous. But, surprise surprise, the biggest reason has to do with Facebook attempting to increase their own profits – in addition to the company attempting to maintain their own, increasingly enormous, political power.

Everything began around the same time as Donald Trump was elected in the US and the Brexit referendum was tearing the UK apart, when Facebook began making changes to their News Feed algorithm – changes which ultimately led to the massive deprioritisation of news, politics and links to external websites, and intentionally deranked sources that were, according to Facebook, supposedly ‘less credible’.

To understand why Facebook made these changes, it’s essential to know exactly how Mark Zuckerberg’s company makes their money. The vast majority or Facebook’s revenue – around 85% – comes from advertising directly on their platform. When you scroll through your Facebook News Feed, an advert is usually shown for every three or four posts that you’re shown – and for every advert that you’re served, an impression is clocked up and Facebook generates a small amount of revenue. Multiply these impressions by almost 3 billion active monthly users, and you’ll understand just how lucrative a supposedly ‘free’ platform can be – with Facebook generating more than $110 billion (£83,750,000,000) in advertising revenue in both 2021 and 2022.

To put that staggering figure into context, $110 billion is more than the entire GDP of 154/221 of the entire world’s countries – including the likes of Croatia, Uruguay, and Serbia!

So, given that now you know how Facebook rakes in their money, you’ll probably have a good idea exactly what they wants users to do with all their free time: stay on Facebook scrolling through as many adverts as possible!

However, just say an interesting article from one of your favourite publishers appears on your feed and you click on it, what happens? That’s right, it takes you to a different platform – usually an external website – which is not generating revenue for Facebook, but instead generating revenue (and other positive leads) for the news organisation that published the article.

Some might say that this trade off was good for both Facebook and News Publishers.

Indeed news, politics and current affairs are some of the most hotly debated topics on the face of the planet, and Facebook clearly benefitted from this type of content in the form of increased engagement, interactions and comments directly on the Facebook posts themselves – whilst News Publishers enjoyed extra clicks through to their own websites, meaning extra ad revenue and additional subscribers and email sign ups.

But Facebook didn’t think this arrangement was fair. Or, at least, they didn’t think it was the best way to maximise their own short term profits.

Whilst maximising ad revenue by keeping users on the platform was certainly their biggest consideration, it’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg simply wants as little politics on Facebook as possible. Indeed, in 2021, Facebook literally admitted as much – posting an article explaining changes to their algorithm in order to specifically “reduce the amount of political content people experience in their Feed” even further.

Facebook’s explanation for their blanket blacklisting of political posts was extremely simple: apparently people just wanted to see less political content in their News Feed.

However, pressure from government’s across the Western world surrounding the supposed proliferation of ‘fake news’, added to Facebook’s extreme reluctance to spend basically any money whatsoever on human content moderation to filter out genuine misinformation, are undoubtedly also big factors.

Needless to say, Facebook’s anti-news algorithm changes have had a hugely detrimental impact on almost all news publishers, and things are only getting worse. But, the fact that left-wing outlets such as ours – who staunchly oppose the hyper-Capitalist socioeconomic system that Facebook benefits from – appear to have been hardest hit, whilst many hard-right political figures have seemingly been entirely unaffected (and even given special treament), is surely just a massive coincedence…

To put things into perspective, from 2016 until the start of 2020, Evolve averaged around 10,000 unique views for every article we published – with around 85% of these views coming directly from Facebook. At our height, we were publishing around 3 articles a day and generating around a million website views a month.

These views were essential to fund our work through ad revenue on our website, and the extra traffic to our website also helped us build a modest paid subscriber base.

However, following the completion of Facebook’s anti-news algorithm changes, our average views have now decreased more than tenfold, with articles plummeting to an average of barely 1,000 views – a trend which, by 2021, had left our main income streams virtually decimated.

Given all the work we’d put into Evolve, and given how successful we had been from 2015 until 2020, to see all of it deteriorate before our eyes – through absolutely no fault of our own – was truly devastating.

As regular Evolve readers will know, I became disabled in 2015 and Evolve was essentially the inspiration of my misfortune – a platform built almost entirely from my sick bed, with the help of my wonderful partner Jess (you can read our story in further details here). From 2015 until 2020, Evolve only continued to get bigger and better. It was clear we’d built something incredible; an astoundingly viral political media outlet with genuine ethics – an outright irritant to the establishment, creating content that was seen by millions, and which truly got under the skin of the powerful to effect genuine change.

However, the last few years have been utterly brutal – both mentally and politically.

But, whilst I’m not entirely healed, I know the time for moping is over. We know Facebook is a dying platform – for left-wing news and politics at least – so, if we want to survive, we need to diversify.

This is why we started Evolve Politics TV on YouTube last year, and it’s why we’ve just joined Substack – platforms which both genuinely value independent content creators, and which we’re hoping will allow us to sustain our work for the forseeable future.

Over the past 6 months (and for the first time in literally forever) I’ve been lucky enough to have some real healing time – time to reflect on what’s been, to rest without real worry, and to recouperate for the next challenge.

So, over the next few weeks and months, we’ll slowly be increasing the amount of content we produce once again  in the form of videos on Evolve Politics TV, and articles on Substack (and our website).

Therefore, if you want to continue seeing Evolve’s work, it’s clear that Facebook simply can’t be relied on anymore. So, please, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and turn notifications on, and head over to Substack and subscribe to our page with your email address over there! By doing this you’ll be notified via email every time we post new content!

All our content is free to subscribe to, but you can make a financial contribution – either on Substack, or via any of the methods on our Support Us page – if you wish!

We very much hope to see you there!

Back shortly :)

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