Facebook wants to ‘strengthen democracy’ with a news tab. What could go wrong?

Amid growing criticism, Facebook wants to “strengthen democracy” by rolling out a dedicated spot for news from reputable sources. On Friday, October 25, Facebook began testing Facebook News, a dedicated tab for news articles on Facebook. The launch comes as the network faces growing criticism for fake news, election interference, and the decision not to fact check political ads.

While news will still appear in the news feed as before, Facebook News aims to create a dedicated space for users to get their news. The tab will be partially run by algorithms, but the content in the Today’s Stories section will be curated by journalists looking for original reporting. Facebook says the tab was built with input from news organizations and that the human curation stemmed from the suggestions provided by professionals in the industry.

But while journalists will be selecting stories for the top section based on a set of editorial guidelines, much of Facebook News will also be personalized. The news appearing in the tab will be determined by the type of posts each user interacts with the most. The goal is to deliver interesting news that keeps users engaged anytime they visit the news tab. Users will also have controls to hide publishers, topics, and articles that they don’t want to see.

Personalized news delivery, however, is often criticized for the possibility of creating what are called echo chambers — where a reader surrounds themselves only with information of that same viewpoint, amplifying their own beliefs without gaining insight from different perspectives.

Facebook

To Facebook’s credit, the network isn’t letting any random blogger with the $10 to buy a domain name into the dedicated news tab. The publishers included in the tab need to be part of the News Page Index, a list developed with the journalism industry. To be eligible for the section, publications also need to meet what Facebook calls integrity signals — a publication noted for spreading misinformation detected by third-party fact-checkers, for example, wouldn’t be eligible for inclusion in the new tab. Clickbait and community standards violations will also keep publishers off the list.

Along with the Today’s Stories and personalized recommendations, Facebook News will include topics sections on business, entertainment, health, science and technology, and sports. Users with active news subscriptions linked to their Facebook account will also see news from those subscriptions in the tab. Facebook will not take a cut of the revenue when driving users to new subscriptions, the company says.

“Facebook News was built to bring people closer to the stories that affect their lives,” wrote Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of news partnerships, and Mona Sarantakos, the product manager for Facebook News. “We’ll continue to learn, listen and improve News as it rolls out more broadly. We hope this work aids in our effort to sustain great journalism and strengthen democracy.”

The initial test will also include local news for users in major metropolitan areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

Facebook’s past experiments with dedicated tab sections haven’t always gone well, with few users straying from the usual news feed. But, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook News doesn’t have to have a high percentage of users to be deemed successful. “Even if the majority of people don’t use any given tab, even if only 10 or 20 percent of people use them … that’s very meaningful for a lot of people,” Zuckerberg told Axios.

Facebook hasn’t revealed what publishers are part of the launch, but early reports suggest up to 200 partners at launch. The network also didn’t share details on what it’s paying participating publications, though sources range from hundreds of thousands to seven figures for larger publications.

The launch comes after Facebook began boosting posts from friends and limiting other posts, including news articles, to make Facebook “a safe place.” While vetting the participating publishers against third-party fact-checkers and curating the top section offers more robust standards than what pops up in the news feed, early tests will determine if those efforts are enough for the network facing increasing criticism from U.S. lawmakers and users.

Editors' Recommendations