In August, I analyzed how Facebook was impacting the news industry with its news feed and trending stories algorithms. News outlets have been using Facebook to get their stories viewed, but are not necessarily promoting the most informational stories.
Just a few months later, it looks like Facebook is going to take on a bigger role as a news organization of its own.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Facebook was criticized for meddling too much in the news realm, populating news articles through its Trending Stories sidebar and through the posts and shares of Facebook users.
Facebook has become a platform where many people get their news, as well as a platform whose algorithm has mistakenly promoted several fake news stories, putting Facebook under pressure from users and mainstream media sources.
Last summer, amidst several instances of Facebook propagating fake news, the media company attempted to avoid blame by denying that it intentionally promoted certain stories and that it was a news organization. Furthermore, there were complaints that Facebook was liberally biased and promoting stories for a political agenda.
With the start of the new year and the election of a new president, Mark Zuckerberg appears to be working toward changing Facebook’s role in the news media.
On February 16, Zuckerberg posted a nearly 6,000 word letter to the Facebook community titled “Building Global Community,” in which he encouraged the creation of supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged and inclusive communities – all through social media.
“Our job at Facebook is to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation,” Zuckerberg said. “Facebook is a work in progress, and we are dedicated to learning and improving.”
It looks like Facebook will soon emerge as a real news media outlet, but with the twist of social media and user-produced content, rather than content produced by journalists and editors.
Zuckerberg aims to make Facebook more reliable, combating fake news and misleading posts. Recently, President Trump has consistently labeled mainstream outlets as “fake news,” discounting their reporting and even banning select outlets from his press conferences. Facebook may have the opportunity to rise as a reliable source among the “fake” outlets that Trump has called out.
Zuckerberg has even planned to visit every state in order to better understand his “constituents” and work to unify them. He is going to about 30 states that he’s never been to before. So far, he’s visited Texas, Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
There has also been speculation that Zuckerberg is taking this nation-wide tour in preparation for a political campaign, especially after Zuckerberg hired former White House senior advisor and campaign manager to President Obama, David Plouffe, to head philanthropic policy and advocacy efforts for Facebook. Zuckerberg also hired Ken Mehlman, former George W. Bush campaign manager, to head the policy board for the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. A political campaign on behalf of one of the most influential people in the world wouldn’t be too surprising, but it also doesn’t look like Zuckerberg will be leaving Facebook any time soon.
Instead, Facebook will become a new mainstream media outlet, combating fake news through crowdsourcing and fact checking. Zuckerberg hopes to use Facebook as a community organizing tool, particularly in the very divisive media world caused by the clash between public figures and the media.
As Facebook becomes increasingly involved with the news industry, the media company is forced to consider how to manage its content, similarly to how news outlets follow journalistic ethics. Facebook has been criticized for censorship, and lack thereof, as it removed the iconic photo of the Napalm Girl but let live-streamed suicide videos slip through the censorship cracks.
Zuckerberg acknowledged this flaw in his essay, stating, “There are billions of posts, comments and messages across our services each day, and since it’s impossible to review all of them, we review content once it is reported to us. There have been terribly tragic events – like suicides, some live streamed – that perhaps could have been prevented if someone had realized what was happening and reported them sooner.”
Fake news stories that have gone viral on Facebook have also sparked controversy – some stories are believed to have skewed the presidential election and have started widespread rumors with little to no fact checking on Facebook’s end.
“The two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news)….Accuracy of information is very important,” Zuckerberg said. “Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item’s accuracy.”
Zuckerberg’s new company mission statement aims to reduce the chances that Facebook can fall to more criticism. The company will attempt to create a safer online environment, mitigating content that users may find offensive or dangerous by implementing more personalized and crowdsourced censorship, as well as providing online resources during crises.
“A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community…. There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable – from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on,” said Zuckerberg.
It seems that Facebook will focus on working with news organizations to promote informational, factual stories that the global community can benefit from. By working together to fact check and get more users involved with the posts they are seeing, Facebook will take on more responsibility for the content on their platform, and news organizations can begin to regain trust of the public.
Zuckerberg is certainly working on correcting the issues that Facebook has faced in recent years, but he is also pushing his company to take on more responsibility in sharing information and impacting its users’ lives. Facebook may become more of a media outlet by shaping how people receive information and engage with one another through social media.
If Facebook is successful in improving the quality of content on its interface, we may start seeing the fact-checked, reliable news that the public has been seeking. Facebook may be the problem, and the solution in the fake news debate whether Zuckerberg’s goals for a ‘global community’ are met: reshaping how news organizations, the government, and the public interact.