Facebook pilot program linking its users’ news subscriptions could cut down on password fatigue

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It’s a mildly annoying problem: when you’re reading the snippet of a news article on Facebook and you click through to read the full article, even if you’re subscribed to the news publication, you hit its paywall and have to manually log in. Facebook says it’s now testing a feature that will help reduce how often you have to log in to news sites, allowing paying news subscribers to link their Facebook accounts to their subscriptions.

The goal, according to Facebook, is to “provide a better news consumption experience on Facebook,” and allowing publishers to “deepen their relationships with subscribers.” Here’s how it works: Facebook identifies a subscriber from one of its publisher partners, and the subscriber is invited to link their subscription account to their Facebook account. Next time the subscriber clicks an article link on Facebook by that publisher, the user won’t have to log in and won’t hit the publisher’s paywall.

Facebook has been testing the feature with a small group of publishers, which it says shows promise for engagement and content distribution. During the month of June, subscribers in the test group who linked their subscription accounts on Facebook clicked on 111 percent more articles, the company said. And once the subscriber links their accounts, Facebook says it will show that subscriber more content from that specific publisher.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Athletic, and the Winnipeg Free Press have been testing the feature, and provided statements for Facebook’s blog post that described a“frictionless” user experience, but it seems a bit early to call it a success. Christian Panson, vice president of digital at Winnipeg Free Press said in the blog post that one of the most common reader complaints is that they have to log in too frequently. “People have account and password fatigue,” he said, adding that “we expect that this will help us to build longer and more frequent engagement with our customers.”

Facebook launched its News tab to US audiences in June, with plans to pay publishers that participated. To qualify as a partner, Facebook required publishers to pass its integrity standards and to have large enough audiences. It said it would rely on third-party fact-checkers to monitor posts for clickbait and copyright violations, as well as sensationalist content. Last week it said it was planning to expand the News tab to other countries, but was a bit vague on the timeline, saying it would be within “six months to a year.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if news publishers were wary of entering into yet another agreement with Facebook, as its track record with news and how it treats publishers isn’t the greatest. It’s introduced several underwhelming news initiatives in recent years, including its Instant Articles, and its News Feed algorithm is widely blamed for siphoning ad revenue away from local news in particular. In the early and mid-2010s, as publishers poured resources into video production to catch some of Facebook’s video traffic, it was revealed the company had juiced the numbers. Facebook later de-prioritized the types of content published by pages in favor of promoting the content of friends and family

Facebook says in its latest blog post that it will be adding more publisher partners and is “actively working on an approach that would allow subscribers to directly initiate the account linking process on publisher websites.”

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