October 29, 2019
Can Facebook do anything that doesn’t draw fire from users, regulators, legislators, and the media? After years of complaints from American news outlets that the social media site has The Washington Post reports that Facebook has agreed to compensate at least some news organizations as part of a specialized “News” tab meant to steer users toward curated national and local news stories.
But the project immediately raised new controversy when it became known that Breitbart News—a Web outlet linked to right-wing causes that was once run by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon—had been included among the 200 media outlets participating in the program.
“Given that Facebook is putting actual news outlets in the same category as Breitbart, actual news outlets should consider quickly withdrawing from the program,” Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit media watchdog, told the Post.
At an event in New York to launch the project, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Breitbart’s inclusion. “You want to include a breadth of content to make sure all different topics can be covered,” Zuckerberg said.
The News tab marks the latest iteration of Facebook’s approach to online news, the Post reports. Before January 2018, the company had been a leading distributor of news, but that role was dogged by the presence in its feed of false and misleading information, as well as by allegations that its news feed and other features tilted toward liberal viewpoints
Zuckerberg did not go into specifics about how different publishers would be compensated, and media analysts expressed skepticism that the arrangement will help the small and medium local outlets that have been most seriously undercut by the rise of online news distribution.
“The vast majority of local news outlets are not included, and that is part of the news ecosystem that’s most at risk,” David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, a trade association of news publishers, told The Washington Post.
Chavern called Facebook’s agreement to pay at least some news outlets for their content a step in the right direction, noting that tech platforms have been “uniquely unwilling to pay for news and quality journalism.”
The News tab already is available to more than 200,000 Facebook users in the United States, with a broader rollout planned for early next year. The new service, Facebook executives say, should make it easier for users to locate the day’s major headlines, as well as stories geared toward particular topics or locales.
The initiative could reach 20 million to 30 million people over a few years, Zuckerberg said.
Research contact: @washingtonpost