When it comes to having a responsibility to share accurate news on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has done an about-face.
Today, Facebook laid out a new program that is designed to “establish stronger ties” between the social network and the news industry. In a lengthy blog post, Facebook director of product Fidji Simo introduced The Facebook Journalism Project, a three-tiered approach that includes efforts to promote news literacy, a certificate curriculum for journalists, new ways for media outlets to publish stories on Facebook, new subscription models and support for local news and independent media.
Simo called the 1.8-billion strong Facebook “a new kind of platform” and echoed previous statements from Zuckerberg that acknowledged Facebook’s role to enable people to “have meaningful conversations, to be informed and to be connected to each other.”
In November, Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s role in disseminating fake news and its “echo chamber” effect, saying that Facebook is a tech company, not a media company, because it does not produce or edit content. He said it is a “crazy idea” that Facebook influenced the election in any way. “News isn’t a priority for most people,” he said. “It’s connecting with friends and family.”
He blamed the lack of diversity in people’s news consumption to a lack of empathy. “People don’t click; they tune it out,” he said of posts that share contrary points of view. “I don’t know what to do about that, and we should work on that.”
The new Facebook Journalism Project clearly addresses this head-on. It’s estimated that 44 percent of the entire U.S. population accesses news on Facebook, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation.
Although Simo didn’t immediately offer many concrete ways in which Facebook will promote news literacy, he wrote that in the short term Facebook would work with the News Literacy Project to produce public service announcements to inform people on Facebook about the issue, with a longer-term goal to work with other third-party organizations and to provide grants.
This builds on updates in December that are designed to help users flag news as fake and that disrupts the financial incentives of spammers by eliminating the ability to spoof domains that mimic credible news sources, in addition to a program with fact-checking organizations that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles.
On the publisher side, Simo said that Facebook would expand its “listening tour” with media outlets and would host hackathons with news organizations to find solutions.
In the short-term, Facebook will begin testing a way for editors to publish packages of stories to Instant Articles, which is a format that lets news organizations publish content directly on Facebook, so that readers will see multiple stories at a time from the same outlet. It will also test ways for outlets to build subscriptions, starting with a test with German news organization BILD to offer free trials to “engaged” readers, in addition to “monetization options for partners.”
And although Facebook’s stance that it doesn’t create content remains intact, it will expand on its training for local newsrooms and will collaborate with outlets such as the Knight Foundation, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, the Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent News Online and the Institute for Journalism in New Media.
Facebook also hired former television news journalist Campbell Brown to lead its news partnerships team, which means that she will “help news organizations and journalists work more closely and more effectively with Facebook,” she wrote on Facebook. “I will be working directly with our partners to help them understand how Facebook can expand the reach of their journalism, and contribute value to their businesses. That also means making sure there is ongoing feedback from publishers as Facebook develops new products and tools for news organizations.”
Simo also called on Facebook’s users, and other platforms, to stop the spread of news hoaxes. “This problem is much bigger than any one platform, and it’s important for all of us to work together to minimize its reach,” he wrote.
“Facebook is a new kind of platform and we want to do our part to enable people to have meaningful conversations, to be informed and to be connected to each other,” he said. “We know that our community values sharing and discussing ideas and news, and as a part of our service, we care a great deal about making sure that a healthy news ecosystem and journalism can thrive.”