Facebook can’t crawl out from under the shadow of the fake news that has become synonymous with the site’s name. Following the 2016 election, the platform was widely criticized for spreading fraudulent news that some believe may have swayed the presidential outcome.
Despite some efforts to clean up its image, Facebook remains the platform of choice for rival's criticism. As Snapchat was ramping up for the unveiling of its newly revamped platform, Cofounder and CEO of Snap Inc., Evan Spiegel, subtly called out Facebook in a post on Axios: “Social media fueled ‘fake news’ because content designed to be shared by friends is not necessarily content designed to deliver accurate information. After all, how many times have you shared something you've never bothered to read?”
Snapchat intends to move to a model that separates news content from social interactions; it will use an algorithm similar to Netflix’s to feed news to its users.
In the wake of criticism, and perhaps as an act of penance, Facebook introduced its Journalism Project in January “to establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry” and promote news literacy. Intended for publishers and educators, the Journalism Project offers online courses from Poynter and Facebook, new storytelling formats and support for local news.
Facebook has also said it would employ artificial intelligence to rid its platforms of fake news.
But what does it mean when a social media and advertising titan begins to control how that content is produced? While the site’s efforts are admirable, considering the state of journalism and the competition for digital advertising dollars, the push to brand itself as a purveyor of quality reporting is dubious.
Facebook refuses to call itself a publisher, insisting it is simply a platform.
However, moving forward with its effort, this week Facebook announced it will partner with Canada’s Ryerson School of Journalism and its business incubator, the DMZ, to fund five news-related startups around the country. Each startup will be given five months of mentorship and space, and $100,000 in seed funds, with an additional $50,000 to be used for advertising on Facebook.
In an unlikely pairing, the school and social-media network see ways this benefits both. Facebook gets another chance to makeover its image, helping to support a struggling industry, digital journalism—ironically, one it helped to jeopardize with its aggressive advertising methods—while experts at Ryerson receive some of the support and funding they need to educate the next generation of journalists.
No doubt stranger bedfellows will emerge between the media and tech worlds, as publications and tech companies struggle to find their footing in an unpredictable landscape. The faster journalism outlets find their voice and authority in these partnerships, the better off media will be.