If you missed the first-ever Interface Live last week, I hope you’ll consider come seeing me this week! I’ll be talking with Clara Tsao, a researcher and entrepreneur who focuses on disinformation and platforms, at a free event in San Francisco. It’s on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., and I would love to see you there. The event is free, and you can RSVP here.
When I think about my ideal relationship between Facebook and journalism, something I have been doing more or less since 2016
, it has always involved carriage fees: payments from Facebook to publishers to support their journalism, in exchange for the right to run it freely across all of their product surfaces. As I told Columbia Journalism Review this summer
Just as cable companies pay for access to high-quality channels, so, too, should social networks pay for access to high-quality journalism. It’s a win-win-win: publishers get money for journalism; readers get news they can trust; and Facebook gets a higher-quality news environment that can bolster our democracy while making the whole site more attractive for readers and advertisers.
On Friday, my dream came true
. The company announced Facebook News, an experimental tab in the company’s mobile apps that will carry news from BuzzFeed
, the Wall Street Journal
, USA Today
, and others. In exchange, some (but not all) of those publishers will receive direct payments, in some cases for millions of dollars over the multi-year life of the contract.
Mark Zuckerberg marked the announcement of Facebook’s new deal with the media with a fireside chat with the CEO of News Corp.
and an op-ed in the New York Times
in which he committed to helping build a more sustainable financial future for journalism. “We know that we need to help build a stable model,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Unlike other things we’ve tried in the past, this is a multiyear commitment that should give publishers the confidence to plan ahead.”
It says something about current public perception of Facebook, the historical enmity publishers have toward it, and the increasing popularity of Facebook-dunking among journalists on Twitter that this news was all received as basically a bad thing.
Facebook News is partnering with a variety of regional newspapers and some major national partners, including USA Today
and The Wall Street Journal
. But as The New York Times
and Nieman Lab report
, its “trusted” sources also include Breitbart,
a far-right site whose co-founder Steve Bannon once described
it as a platform for the white nationalist “alt-right.” Breitbart
has been criticized for repeated inaccurate
and incendiary reporting
, often at the expense of immigrants and people of color. Last year, Wikipedia declared it an unreliable source for citations
, alongside the British tabloid Daily Mail
and the left-wing site Occupy Democrats
That’s led to questions
about why Breitbart
belongs on Facebook News, a feature that will supposedly be held to far tougher standards than the normal News Feed. In a question-and-answer session after the interview, Zuckerberg told Washington Post
columnist Margaret Sullivan that Facebook would have “objective standards” for quality. […]
But when New York Times reporter Marc Tracy asked how including Breitbart served that cause, Zuckerberg emphasized its politics, not its reporting. “Part of having this be a trusted source is that it needs to have a diversity of views in there, so I think you want to have content that represents different perspectives,” he said. Zuckerberg reiterated that these perspectives should comply with Facebook’s standards, and he was cagey about Breitbart’s presence, saying that “having someone be possible or eligible to show up” doesn’t guarantee frequent placement. “But I certainly think you want to include a breadth of content in there,” he said.
It seems to me that Breitbart was included in the tab precisely for ideological reasons — for the “breadth of content” reasons Zuckerberg mentioned. Certainly no one at Facebook seems to be suggesting that Breitbart is a reliable producer of high-quality journalism — the argument seems to be rather that it would be poor form to exclude them just because they once (for example) tagged relevant stories with the label “black crime.” Different perspectives and all that.
Ultimately, I’m with Mosseri — Breitbart doesn’t belong in Facebook News. Breitbart should be allowed to have a Facebook page and share links freely in the News Feed, assuming it doesn’t violate the company’s standards. But including the publisher in the News tab elevates its work and supports it financially. It gives the outlet both freedom of speech and freedom of reach, when it only deserves the former.
As with Zuckerberg’s decision to exempt politicians’ ads from fact-checking, which runs counter to the efforts of its platform integrity team to remove misinformation from Facebook, the decision to bring Breitbart into its stable of trusted news partners would seem to run counter to its efforts to promote a healthy news environment. (Among other things, the site has a dedicated “Fake News Freakouts” section
that exists primarily to undermine confidence in reported journalism.)
Facebook is now in a position where it fights misinformation with one hand while ushering it onto the platform with another. As Mike Isaac reported in the Times today
, that has sparked a debate inside the company, where more than 250 employees have signed a post asking the company to reconsider its policy to exempt politicians’ ads from fact-checking. In the letter, employees worried that the move could
Increase distrust in our platform by allowing similar paid and organic content to sit side-by-side — some with third-party fact-checking and some without. Additionally, it communicates that we are OK profiting from deliberate misinformation campaigns by those in or seeking positions of power.
You can imagine employees mounting a similar criticism of Breitbart as a news partner — that it increases distrust in the platform by sitting side by side with traditional publishers. We’ll see.
Hampton told CNN Business that he will use his new status as a candidate to run false ads on Facebook about President Trump, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and other Facebook executives. He said he also plans to run false ads on Facebook about executives of Twitter, which also has a policy of not fact-checking ads run by candidates.
His goal is to force Facebook to stop allowing politicians to run false ads.
Because Mr. Zuckerberg is one of the most powerful people in politics right now — and because the stakes feel so high — there’s a desire to assign him a political label. That’s understandable but largely beside the point. Mark Zuckerberg may very well have political beliefs. And his every action does have political consequences. But he is not a Republican or a Democrat in how he wields his power. Mr. Zuckerberg’s only real political affiliation is that he’s the chief executive of Facebook. His only consistent ideology is that connectivity is a universal good. And his only consistent goal is advancing that ideology, at nearly any cost.
Critics who want to see Breitbart gone from the news tab, or lies gone from politicians’ ads, should probably start by making the case that Facebook will grow faster without them.