The world has been talking about the impending death of newspapers for years now, while digital publishers too have had to work hard to find ways to make money, but over the last few months the conversation has turned to the death of news itself as the term “fake news” has made its way into the popular lexicon.
Part of the blame for the rise of fake news can be attributed to social media, where sensational posts, spurred on by algorithms, can quickly go viral. Another part of the blame, of course, must then go to news outlets who, in too much of a hurry to verify stories in the minute by minute news cycle, run with them and further add to their virality.
Of course, many viral stories from years ago turned out to be fake – remember the New York subway pizza rat? A hoax, apparently. In the past these stories were mostly harmless, but of late there has been a shift in the types of stories found to be fake; when it comes to the likes of politics, the effects can be significant.
A few weeks after last November’s US Presidential election, BuzzFeed released an analysis that found that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.
The buzz about Facebook contributing to the rise of fake news throughout the election led to Mark Zuckerberg writing a long post on the matter denying that Facebook played a significant role in sharing fake news during the election, but nonetheless he said the company is dedicated to fighting the problem.
“Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other,” he wrote.
“That said, we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.”
Part of the plan to improve is the Facebook Journalism Project, revealed today by director of product Fidji Simo as a new program to “establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry”.
“We will be collaborating with news organizations to develop products, learning from journalists about ways we can be a better partner, and working with publishers and educators on how we can equip people with the knowledge they need to be informed readers in the digital age,” Simo explained.
The company said the Project is not a direct response to or outcome of the fake news issue, rather something it has been working on for a while to strengthen its ties and improve the way it works with the struggling news industry.
As such, the project will work in three ways: collaborative development of news products, training and tools for journalists, and training and tools for “everyone”.
In looking to collaborate on new products, Simo said Facebook will work with industry on things such as new storytelling formats, looking at emerging business models and monetisation options as well as supporting local news, hackathons, and simply “continuing to listen”.
One avenue for monetisation was revealed a few days ago, with Facebook mentioning the idea of advertising breaks in the middle of videos, with revenue to be shared with publishers.
Facebook is also looking at how to fix Instant Articles, a feature released more than a year ago to help avoid slow page loading times by having publishers house content on Facebook itself rather than having users click through to and wait for the publisher’s own website to load.
While increasing views, Instant Articles restricts the number of ads a publisher can show in a piece. It also disconnects readers from the publisher’s brand, as most Instant Article pages are indistinguishable from one another; a publication’s website, of course, is filled with its branding, always reminding the audience of where they are. A reader not valuing the publisher and its brand means views to its website fall away, subscriptions not bought, and so on.
In a bid to solve this problem, Facebook is trialling packages of Instant Articles, while will allow users to click through a cover story on the news feed and then choose between a number of the publisher’s stories, keeping them with that outlet for longer.
When it comes to training and tools for journalists, Simo highlighted a series of e-learning courses the company has created on Facebook products, tools, and services for journalists. These courses will be expanded, with Facebook to partner with Poynter to launch a certificate curriculum.
Tools Facebook offers journalists include the recently acquired CrowdTangle, now to be offered to partners for free to help surface stories, measure their social performance, and identify influencers.
Simo also explained Facebook will be adding new features onto Pages for news outlets and journalists to help them report using Facebook Live, while it will also be increasing its commitment to the First Draft Partner Network, a coalition of platforms and publishers working together to provide practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify and publish content sourced from the social web.
When it comes to providing training and tools for everyone, Simo wrote that Facebook will look to promote news literacy and continue its efforts to curb its news hoaxes.
It will be interesting to see what comes of the Project over the coming months. Facebook also announced last week the appointment of former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown as its new head of News Partnerships.
In a post announcing the news, Campbell stated she will be tapping into her newsroom experience to help news outlets and journalists to work more effectively with 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.”