Facebook have announced that they will be launching a new tab within their app called Facebook News; which will be tested in a rollout across the USA. They explain in their official release blog:
“Journalism plays a critical role in our democracy. When news is deeply-reported and well-sourced it gives people information they can rely on. When it’s not, we lose an essential tool for making good decisions. People want and benefit from personalized experiences on Facebook, but we know there is reporting that transcends individual experience. We want to support both.” – Campbell Brown, VP, Global News Partnerships and Mona Sarantakos, Product Manager, News
The article goes on to talk about how Facebook are starting to test a dedicated place for news articles and stories on Facebook to a specific subset of people in the US; at this moment the specific demographics are unknown. They claim that this move will give people much more control and clarity over the news that they see and also allow them the ability to explore a much wider range of interests across the news spectrum; directly from the Facebook app. Users will also be shown articles that highlight the most relevant national news stories on any particular day.
What will be on there?
Facebook are looking to build a place where more people can find news on their platform and in this process decided to reach out and gain insight from journalists and publishers alike; in order to start developing their product. The article goes on to say:
“As Mark Zuckerberg said in a conversation with Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Europe’s largest publisher Axel Springer, we wanted to build this product in a consultative way, sharing our ideas and getting input from the industry. We talked to news organizations about what they’d like to see included in a news tab, how their stories should be presented and what analytics to provide.”
The end product that users will eventually see following the limited user testing currently happening will include a number of different sections, taken from Facebook’s official release:
- Today’s Stories chosen by a team of journalists to catch you up on the news throughout the day
- Personalization based on the news you read, share and follow, so you can find new interests and topics and Facebook News is fresh and interesting every time you open it
- Topic sections to dive deeper into business, entertainment, health, science & tech, and sports
- Your Subscriptions, a section for people who have linked their paid news subscriptions to their Facebook account
- Controls to hide articles, topics and publishers you don’t want to see
What about the issue of machine learning bias?
With these new sections in mind for people to take advantage of, Facebook do admit that the publisher’s fears of the limitations involved with algorithms and machine learning are correct. They explain that there is work to be done and “progress to be made” before they are able to rely on technology solely to provide a quality news outlet, such as what is being proposed with Facebook Stories. This certainly seems to be Facebook’s foray into the world of digital advertising by becoming a source of news aggregation; but are conscious that using algorithms to decide on the stories displayed has its faults; thus preparing to start small with the use of AI at this stage.
The reasoning behind this reluctance to go all-out software driven article selection is down to the collaborative approach that they aimed for when putting the new product together. They explained that news organisations at the beginning of the roadmap for Facebook News, emphasised that “the original reporting is more expensive to produce and better recognised by seasoned journalists than by algorithms”. To honour this approach, Facebook have created a curation team that will have full editorial independence; allowing them to select stories from the news based on the already publicly available guidelines.
Facebook have explained in their official release that publishers need to be in their News Page index in order to be selected by their curators for publishing on Facebook News. They also need to adhere to Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines in which they have developed some “integrity signals” – likely to be based around improving the quality of the news published and ultimately reducing the pertinence of “Fake News”. They say in their release that some of these “integrity signals” are: “misinformation — as identified based on third-party fact checkers — community standards violations (e.g., hate speech), clickbait, engagement bait and others. We’ll continually check Pages’ integrity status to ensure eligibility criteria is consistently being met. Lastly, they must serve a sufficiently large audience, with different thresholds for the four categories of publishers.”
So, on the surface of it, it looks like Facebook are trying to reduce the recent negativity around their platform regarding the sharing and involvement in political campaigns, as well as being seen as vastly responsible for the growth and spread of Fake News and misinformation on their platform.
The interesting part will be looking into Facebook’s direct payments in exchange for high-quality posts and stories; which is directly rewarding good quality, responsible journalism. The big question is whether users will actually start to… use it.