Facebook News debuts as social network battles misinformation
Facebook said Friday it's testing a tab that will display curated news stories, a move that could help the social network surface more credible media outlets as it tries to curtail the spread of misinformation.
Called Facebook News, the product will initially have about 200,000 users in the US. A team of journalists will pick top stories. Users will also see personalized news articles based on their interests and articles from their paid news subscriptions. Facebook News users can also hide publishers, articles or topics they don't want to see.
The separation of news stories into a new tab marks a change from Facebook's previous practice of showing articles in a user's News Feed alongside photos and videos from family and friends. The use of human curators also makes the company less reliant on algorithms to choose and deliver news items, a practice that led to claims that publishers of misinformation and altered videos could game Facebook's systems.
They have progress to make before they can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination," Camp bell Brown, vice president of global news partner ships, and Mona Saran takos, a product manager for Facebook News, said in a blog post.
Users will still see news articles appear in their News Feed as well.
The new tab comes as Facebook and other social networks, including Twitter and LinkedIn, increasingly replace newspapers and magazines as the place to consume news. About one-in-five US adults often get their news through social media, surpassing print newspapers, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center. Last year, though, Facebook changed its News Feed so users saw more content from family and friends than news articles or posts from brands. The company also continues to battle disinformation and allegations that it suppresses conservative speech, which Facebook has denied.
Facebook and news organizations have a strained relationship because both compete for ad dollars, making media outlets wary about relying too much on social networks to drive traffic to their stories. Facebook didn't name the news outlets it was partnering with for Facebook News in the blog post. A person familiar with the matter said The Washington Post, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Hearst Newspapers, McClatchy and the LA Times were among the publications participating. Facebook is paying some publishers who provide a steady amount of fact-based original content, the person said.
CNET and some sister sites, including CBS News, CBS Sports and ET, are paid partners.
The social network declined to comment on the terms of the deals.
Facebook has also faced criticism that its partnerships with third-party fact checkers haven't been rigorous enough to combat misinformation from going viral on the site.
The company doesn't send speech from politicians to fact checkers, for example, a policy that attracted more scrutiny from Democrats this month. If a story is rated false by a fact checker, Facebook won't delete the post but will show it lower in the News Feed.
Users will be able to find the news tab on the social network like its video hub Watch or Marketplace, where people can sell and buy items. The company said it's displaying news in the tab from four categories of publishers: general, topical, diverse and local news. Publishers will need to meet certain criteria to be eligible to show their stories in the news tab, as well as abide by its rules against hate speech, violence and other offensive content.
As part of the test, the company will showcase local news from media outlets from major US cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC. Facebook will display news from its local news section "Today In" in the coming months as well.
Facebook, which competes with Apple and Google in news aggregation, has faced challenges working with publishers and journalists. In 2015, Facebook launched Instant Articles, a way for publishers to display news articles on the social network without prompting users to leave the site. Many publishers appear to have cast aside that format, the Columbia Journalism Review reported last year.
Facebook also used to display "trending" topics on its site but the company scrapped the controversial section in 2018 after four years. The section surfaced fake news and conspiracy theories. There were also allegations that workers suppressed conservative news within that section, but Facebook pushed back against these claims.
The company hasn't said yet when it plans to launch Facebook News globally.