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News website traffic jumps when Facebook goes down: Chartbeat data

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facebook ceo mark zuckerbergFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • When Facebook crashes, traffic to news outlets spikes.
  • Data from analytics firm Chartbeat shows that when the Silicon Valley social network goes down, people flock to news apps and websites.
  • The data highlights how Facebook can compete with news outlets for users’ attention even as it fuels them with traffic.
  • And it may demonstrate that despite many news outlets’ current dependence on Facebook, many could manage without it.

Facebook’s occasional outages are a headache for its billions of users, but there’s an unexpected upside for the media industry: When the social network crashes, traffic to news sites spikes.

That’s according to data from Chartbeat, an analytics firm that measures web traffic and referrals for media companies’ websites and other businesses. It found that when Facebook briefly stopped working on August 3, 2018, overall traffic to news sites jumped 2.3%, and users surged to apps and search. 

The data demonstrates that even though Facebook contributes vast amounts of traffic and referrals to the media industry, it is at least on one level competing with media for people’s time and attention — and when it’s temporarily out of the picture, traditional journalism gets a boost.

“One of the fascinating things for me in the data … was to see what extent Facebook can actually be thought of as a competitor to news. Both things are competing for people’s time,” Chris Breaux, the director of data science at Chartbeat, told Business Insider in an interview. 

_chart Chartbeat Facebook Outage 01@2xThe data collected by Chartbeat shows referral traffic from Facebook falling through the floor during its outage, as you’d expect.Chartbeat

The data was originally presented at a conference by Josh Schwartz, Chartbeat’s chief of product, engineering, and data science.

With Facebook down, referrals to news sites from social sources fell as one might expect, but surges elsewhere more than made up for it. There was an increase in app usage of 22%, while direct visits soared 11%. Search, too, was up 8% — resulting in an overall increase in 2.3% across all sites.

_chart Chartbeat Facebook Outage 02 Traffic Sources@2xWith Facebook down, traffic to news sites from other non-social sources spiked.Chartbeat

Hang Su, a data scientist at Chartbeat, cautioned that the data doesn’t necessarily reflect how traffic to news sites might look in a world without Facebook, given the abnormal nature of the 45-minute event. “It’s hard to tell what the trend would really be,” she said. “I’m not sure this should be very indicative of … if Facebook were to decline, so I would take this with a handful of salt.”

Over the past few years, vast swathes of the media industry has become highly reliant on Facebook as a source of traffic, obsessing over its every algorithm tweak. But facing sustained outrage over fake news and disinformation, the social network has refocused on personal connections.

Since January 2017 the amount of traffic Facebook has referred to sites that use Chartbeat is down nearly 40%, even as alternative sources of traffic like Google Search and direct mobile traffic soar.

While the 45-minute outage is just a snapshot, it hints at how news outlets needn’t be reliant for Facebook for their traffic — and may be able to do just fine without it. And for users, it shows just how much attention and focus Facebook takes away from other spots on the internet. 

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