Editor's Note: Update: This piece has been updated since it was originally published to include reporting via tweet from Oliver Darcy of CNN.
Facebook is launching a “News” tab today, which will provide stories from hundreds of news organizations. This is the second time the social media site tried to decide what is news for its users. The first time exploded under allegations of bias against the right.
“Facebook’s service will include some human curation by a small editorial team of journalists, who will select top stories” according to The Washington Post.
Much like asking “who fact-checks the fact-checkers,” the question of “who curates the curators” will likely be on conservatives’ minds. After all, based on Facebook’s troubled history with truth, conservatives would be right to be concerned about their commitment to free expression.
Facebook previously purged its disgraced Trending topics section after not only being accused of bias, but having its very own workers blow the whistle on its agenda-setting. “[A]ccording to a former journalist who worked on the project,” Gizmodo summarized, “... workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.”
Anne Kornblut, The Post’s former deputy national editor, “is overseeing the team of journalists who will chose [sic] top stories for the ‘News’ tab, according to people familiar with planning for the service,” reported The Post.
The participating news organizations whose content will be curated includes “about 200 news organizations, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, News Corp, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Fox News, NBCUniversal, USA Today and The Los Angeles Times. Some of those outlets will be paid for their content, including The Post” The Post noted in an article it published today.
If that wasn’t damning enough, many of Facebook’s “news curators” told Gizmodo that they were instructed to “inject” specific stories into the Trending news section. The former curators also claimed that Facebook, in the spirit of self-preservation, discouraged them from including news about Facebook itself.
Facebook executives told Axios a few months ago that they would be “hiring seasoned journalists to help curate a forthcoming ‘News Tab’ that they hope will change how millions get news.” Facebook’s mission, as Axios described, is “to restore the sanity and credibility that's lost in the chaos of our main feeds.”
Facebook’s head of news partnerships Campbell Brown, a former news anchor at NBC and CNN, said that algorithms will also be involved. “Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience … ,” said Brown. “The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection.”
For what it’s worth, Zuckerberg has tried to reassure conservatives they will at least attempt to avoid bias. “‘We are monitoring for any kind of bias, both amongst our team and in the product itself,’ Zuckerberg said,” according to Axios’ reporting. "‘Making sure that this ends up being a platform for all different perspectives is obviously going to be very important for this succeeding over the long term.’"
Conservatives wary of “diversity” politics may have their hackles raised by the other comments made by Zuckerberg in the same article, however. Facebook claimed to have hired journalists with “real experience” who are a “diverse group who have different backgrounds and views and different nationalities."
News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch explained the rationale in a Jan. 2018 press release, saying, “If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies.” He added further that these payments “would have a minor impact on Facebook’s profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists.”
The news industry seems to approve, and this is yet another step toward their “long-sought goal of having technology companies pay for the content they deliver to users.” This service will also pitFacebook against other “news aggregation services offered by Silicon Valley rivals Google and Apple.”
“Facebook will pay publishers for work they already make and then share to the platform, which means it is pure profit,” Vox/Recode summarized about the “News” tab.
CNN reporter Oliver Darcy tweeted that Zuckerberg defended "having far-right website Breitbart in its news tab" quoting the Facebook CEO as saying "I think you want to have content that represents different perspectives." When asked about Breitbart being among the other websites in the news tab Darcy observed how Zuckerberg expressed that all outlets will have to comply with Facebook's standards.
Zuckerberg defends having far-right website Breitbart in its news tab: "I think you want to have content that represents different perspectives," Zuckerberg says, adding that all outlets will still have to comply with standards Facebook has set.— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) October 25, 2019