Tolu is a cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiast based in Lagos. He likes to demystify crypto stories to the bare basics so that anyone anywhere can understand without too much background knowledge. When he's not neck-deep in crypto stories, Tolu enjoys music, loves to sing and is an avid movie lover.
Facebook has announced the launch of a News feature with initial coverage in some parts of the United States.
Over the years, Facebook has had more than its fair share of problems that revolve around the privacy and authenticity of the content found on its platform. There have been many cases of reported breaches causing private data of many of its users to fall into the hands of others, without the users’ consent. There have also been stories surrounding the dissemination of a lot of false or harmful information and even advertisements, on Facebook.
On Wednesday, during a biting hearing for Facebook’s Libra with the United States Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook was consistently working on several ways with credible media houses and journalists, to ensure that verified news has space on Facebook. It would seem that Facebook is now true to its word as it has launched a new feature called Facebook News.
The feature, which is already up and running, will be initially available to a subset of Facebook users who reside in the U.S. Users will have a separate tab dedicated to news, which is curated in partnership with several verified news outlets and will cut across various different sectors. Facebook says that people will also have direct control over their news feed right in the app, tailored to their preferences across all news interests. The feature will also highlight news items with specific regard for the most relevant stories as they break, each day.
According to a post from Zuckerberg, the new age of journalism which includes players on the internet must work with already established news companies, to create better ways to propagate journalism in such a way that the society greatly benefits.
The post reads:
“Journalism is important for our democracy and for making progress on issues together. But the internet has disrupted the traditional business model for news, so I believe the major internet services have a responsibility to partner with news publishers to build sustainable long-term models to fund this important work. I hope our work honors and supports the contribution journalists make to our society.”
Two Facebook execs have also said in an official blog post that the News users will begin to see is likely to be determined by automatic algorithms created by the platform, to rank news stories according to their importance. According to Facebook’s Vice President of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown, as well as Product Manager for News Mona Sarantakos, this would be easily visible on a section on the future known as Today’s Stories.
Another section will be called Personalization. Here, the items shown to each user will be specifically based on the user’s activity, using specific algorithms to track the kind of news being read, followed and shared among followers. This means that when you open personalization, you will be quickly greeted with carefully selected “fresh and interesting” news stories, which are relevant to you.
There will also be Topic sections which will not just be news, but a deeper and more informed take on several sectors including entertainment, sports, health, business and science & tech as well. This section will very easily cater to pundits who want a more than average report on some of their favorite news topics and sectors.
Your Subscriptions is another section which just as the name suggests, will give people easy and quick access to link their account with news subscriptions they have already paid for.
Another very important section is called Controls. This section allows users to filter their News content, specifically to show or hide any news stories, topics, news publishers and other articles they’d prefer to see or not see.
The execs have admitted also that some of the publishers who have partnered with Facebook on this feature have raised an issue or two. The post reads:
“Regarding personalization, publishers worry that machine learning has limits and they’re right. We have progress to make before we can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination. We also aim to serve both people and news publishers, and not just the big national players. We want new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism, to flourish. So we will continue to expand the algorithmic selection of stories driving the majority of Facebook News.”
The official news page on Facebook’s website boasts that the feature involves “original reporting from over 200 outlets across general, topical, local and diverse outlets” with some of the highlighted outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, People, New York Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, CBS News, Business Insider, Fox News, The Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, National Preview, The New Yorker, Miami Herald, The Washington Times, Forbes, Barron’s, BuzzFeed News and many more. According to the blog post, the included news publishers that will feed content to Facebook News will have to fully comply with Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines as well as being a part of the company’s News Page Index.
Facebook News Guidelines
Back in 2017, Facebook’s Head of News Feed and Chief Product Officer, Adam Mosseri, revealed specific guidelines created by the social media giant, in its attempt to tackle the spread of fake news on the platform. Mosseri said that the announcement was “targeted at bad actors” but would still help the good guys stay on Facebook’s good side, making sure they aren’t “caught up in the crosshairs.”
The guidelines fall under three basic tenets or Publisher Principles.
Principle 1 notes that the content being published must be “meaningful and informative”, meaning that the publishers must make sure that there is proper value to the stories being put out.
Principle 2 specifies accuracy and authenticity. This directly means that people want to know that the news content being viewed is not only reliable but also credible as well. Generally, publishers must avoid the temptation to be unnecessary sensational, must avoid spam and click-baits, and must make sure that the news content being published is not misleading at all, in any way.
Principle 3 mentions that the news content must follow strict “standards for safe, respectful behavior”. This principle is Facebook’s way of ensuring that its culture of diversity, allowing several people all over the world to connect and share, is preserved as much as possible. This principle specifically mentions that “everything from nudity to bullying to graphic content”, should be strictly avoided. There are some exceptions, however, for publications that could possibly be considered offensive, if they are “newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest”, as long as Facebook’s Community Standards are followed.
Facebook has reportedly been working on the News project for more than a few months now. About a week ago, a report from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) announced that Facebook had reached an agreement with the WSJ along with other media companies including BuzzFeed News, Washington Post and Business Insider, to allow the social media giant use headlines from these media companies on its platform. The announcement suggests that Facebook will pay these companies a licensing fee ranging from several hundred thousand dollars annually to several millions depending on the size and relevance of the media company. In addition, publications such as Bloomberg which aren’t free will first allow users to read initial stories on Facebook without any payment. However, if these users need to go further into other stories, a payment prompt will require that users pay a fee.
Facebook also promises that the news chosen by human editors will be selected without any pressure or external influence from anyone at all. The company stated:
“This team is independent, free from editorial intervention by anyone at the company. They will select stories based on publicly available guidelines, which you can learn about at facebook.com/news.”
Facebook has however not disclosed the exact number of publishers that will be on-boarded on the News feature. However there are thoughts in some quarters that adding a new News tab on the app would make the entire app interface a little too clumsy and cumbersome to navigate. However, there’s a chance that this time, things might be a little different because other news features Facebook has tried its hands on in the past, have not been this elaborate to involve officially paying news publishers several million dollars for their content.
Publishers might however still have a few things to grapple with. For example, these publishers will reportedly not be able to specifically differentiate the traffic they get from the new News Tab, from other older Facebook sections. This might mean that publishers might need to have their teams build their own application programming interface (API) that could quite possibly solve this problem if this kind of information is important to them. The assumption of its importance could be made from the fact that as stated above, the media companies are now an official part of a Facebook feature that could pull in a few million dollars a year for their content.
It is unclear whether or not this feature would help Facebook’s regulatory issues with the planned launch of its Libra digital currency. During Zuckerberg’s hearing before Congress, one of the major issues raised was the use of Facebook to circulate false, divisive and sometimes inflammatory news stories. Hopefully, this is a strong enough response to questions about what Facebook has done regarding the problem.