There is a growing concern that social media negatively impacts the way in which we consume ‘news stories’ and use this as a basis to form opinions. Facebook is attempting to improve the source of news for all users with its News feature.
While some say that the press has too much power, there’s no denying the importance of impartial news reports and its contribution to democracy. When news stories aren’t deeply reported, sourced or researched, it’s harder to draw informed opinions from them.
With the News tab, Facebook aims to be a credible source and tailor news consumption to your preferences. In the initial stages, this will only be available to a subset of Facebook users in the United States. However, it’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg has lofty ambitions. The Facebook CEO announced that in a few years, the feature would be available to up to 30 million people.
At the moment, we’re in the implementation stage. Facebook wants to support original reporting from agencies in Dallas Fort-Worth, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Miami, Washington and Atlanta.
Users will have opportunities to shape their news experience and explore their interests within the app and website. As well as personalized stories, Facebook News will show important national stories. There will be no changes to the stories in your News Feed.
In the past, Facebook has worked alone in the features it introduces. With this one, it seems Mark Zuckerberg wanted to work alongside industry leaders. He consulted journalists and news agencies, sharing ideas about how to introduce the feature, which metrics to offer, and how to provide users with the news they want.
As a result of this consultation, it seems the news stories will be presented in four main ways:
When developing this new service, Facebook paid equal attention to the news stories people didn’t want to see as to those they did. Because of this, users can hide topics, articles and even publishers. If a user adds a name to their hidden publication list, they will no longer see content from this provider.
Why this new feature? This year, Facebook presented a survey to over 100,000 users which revealed that some topics were simply unappealing to people. This included sports, entertainment, health, and business. With Facebook News, users control the topics they actually want to see.
Of the four categories, personalization presents the greatest challenge for Facebook. Why? Many publishers are concerned about the limitations of machine learning. Even Facebook has openly noted that these concerns are fair.
Rather than serve the biggest names across the country, Facebook fundamentally wants to serve news publishers and the people. It believes that independent and individual journalists are just as important as the organizations that have been around for decades. Therefore, it will continue to push algorithms and machine learning further to achieve accurate and reliable story selection.
After more consultations, Facebook learned that experienced journalists are much better at spotting high-quality, original reporting than an algorithm. Not only does original reporting cost more to produce, but many organizations warned that algorithms would struggle to identify original versus copycat content. Facebook has addressed this problem directly and created a curation team to monitor the Today’s Stories section.
For this team, the focus is on delivering the best and most accurate stories to users. According to Facebook, they will choose stories following specific guidelines and will remain editorially independent.
At launch, there was no news of how many publishers had access to Facebook News. In the weeks since, it has revealed that new publishers are added to the list frequently. The stories presented on this platform will always fall into one of the four categories below:
It’s important to note that the guidelines for publishers are strict. They need to follow the guidelines when registering as a news page. Facebook said very early that publishers need to be in its News Page Index to even be considered. If you haven’t seen the Publisher Guidelines, they assess the credibility and integrity of all content. For example, content often passes through third-party fact-checkers. Violations include engagement bait, clickbait, hate speech, etc.
Furthermore, Facebook added that a publisher needs a ‘sufficiently large audience’ and should never post misinformation. With all this in mind, only those who are genuinely impartial and provide valuable content will have access to Facebook News.
It’s important to look at both sides of the coin when considering Facebook News: the users and the publishers. From the user’s perspective, the feature offers a space for reliable and accurate news stories. The News Feed is a minefield of attention-hungry publishers crafting headlines with articles that don’t relate to them. Sound like clickbait to you? Us too. With Facebook News, we’re expecting stories that are filtered and impartial.
What about the publishers? This could be a good opportunity for the smaller names which produce high-quality, researched and well-sourced news pieces. If people are increasingly seeking more reliable news through this feature, Facebook may bring more publishers on board to meet demand.
However, many publishers are skeptical because of previous broken promises. Facebook invested heavily back in 2017 and 2018 to overhaul the News Feed and assure greater quality. Unfortunately, this had the opposite effect and increased the proliferation of fake news. While that particular exploration didn’t make it past the testing phase, Facebook is hoping that this one makes it through to execution.
In the coming months, many eyes will be on Facebook and those who are lucky enough to be involved in the testing phase. One key question for Facebook is whether or not users will actually go through the effort of tapping on the News tab. At the moment, Facebook is full of features that seem to go under the radar. The last thing Facebook wants is for users to get banner blindness and ignore the new feature completely.
If all goes well, users will seek high-quality news stories on Facebook and the best publishers will be rewarded for their journalistic integrity. If it goes wrong, users won’t tap the news tab and publishers will suffer as a result. There could even be a danger of Facebook News slipping to the same standard as the normal News Feed if publishers aren’t monitored properly.
Facebook says its criteria for publishers will ‘evolve over time,’ which will ensure well-sourced articles. It seems as though the company is genuinely listening to user feedback and experts in the industry to get Facebook News right this time!
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