Facebook Launches Project to Strengthen Media Ties, Fight Fake News

Since the presidential election in November, Facebook has been under constant public scrutiny in anticipation of how it would address its fake news problem. In December, the company added features that warn readers of dubious sources and also allow them to flag stories as potentially fake. But the public discussion about fake news didn’t stop there; earlier this month, the company announced a wide-ranging initiative that attempts to take more control of its relationship with the media.

Dubbed the Facebook Journalism Project, the program aims to “establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry.” At first look, much of the project appears to build on already existing Facebook tools that news organizations regularly use, like Facebook Live and Instant Articles.

Buried within the announcement is a section on “promoting news literacy.” In the announcement, Facebook Director of Product Fidji Simo says the hope is to work with third-party organizations to “help people in our community have the information they need to make decisions about which sources to trust.”

One of these organizations is the News Literacy Project (NLP), a nonprofit that aims to teach middle and high school students how to consume news from a critical perspective. In its partnership with Facebook, NLP plans to launch a public service advertising campaign to inform Facebook users about discerning real news from hoaxes. While NLP’s programming currently targets students only, the partnership with Facebook will target the “general public on a mass scale,” the company said.

“NLP will have editorial control and the Facebook creative ad team will produce the PSAs using Facebook’s sophisticated targeting capabilities,” Alan Miller, President and CEO of NLP told MediaFile.

Miller said NLP had been in discussions with Facebook about a possible partnership over the past year, even before Facebook’s implication in the spreading of fake news was getting increased attention. “Following the election, our discussions became more focused,” he said.

NLP and Facebook expect to put out “videos and other multimedia elements familiar to Facebook users” as part of the PSA campaign in the spring of this year.

Simo says the PSA campaign is Facebook’s short-term plan. “Our longer-term goal is to support news organizations with projects and ideas aimed at improving news literacy, including financial grants where needed,” the Facebook executive said in the company announcement. Facebook plans to work with journalism schools and experts to “help decide on what new research to conduct and projects to fund.”

It’s not clear whether this long-term plan involves hiring people to manage Facebook content on a human level. In November, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called on Facebook to hire an executive editor and rely less on its complex algorithms.

Simo did not respond to a request for comment.

The Facebook Journalism Project announcement includes updates to tools like Instant Articles, which will now allow some news organizations to bundle different stories together. Facebook is also experimenting with German newspaper Bild to give access to paid content within Instant Articles, which could pave the way to paid subscriptions within Facebook.

Other parts of the project announcement include:

• an update to Facebook Live that allows page — in this case, news organizations — to delegate to individual journalists the ability to go live on behalf of the page.

• updates on Facebook’s newsroom and online training for its tools.

• free access to CrowdTangle, a newly acquired company that helps organizations monitor the spread of their content.

• an increased commitment to the First Draft Partner Network, a collection of media organizations that helps verify eyewitness news and citizen journalism.

The announcement also says Facebook wants to be more engaged with local news organizations. There are no further details about the kinds of relationships Facebook wants with local media. Simo says that part of the project “is in its earliest stages.”

Facebook is without question a major factor in the way people consume news today, if not the primary factor, according to numbers from the Pew Research Center. Despite that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has argued that in the past that his company is a technology company, not a media company. Since then, his opinion has gradually changed to more closely fit the role that Facebook plays in spreading information. The Facebook Journalism Project could be seen as a manifestation of Zuckerberg’s shifting position.

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