Today, Facebook began to group political advocacy ads with news coming from trusted publishers, promoting each under the same rubric. And as a result, lumping them together.
This comes as liberal critics, operating under the moniker “Freedom From Facebook,” argue for the break up of the social media giant. The group believes Facebook has become too big to adequately handle the threat of fake news, while continuing to deliver trusted journalism to users.
“Facebook threatens our democracy by choking off independent journalism, by manipulating how people talk to one another, and by broadcasting dangerous propaganda,” stated Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute.
Under the new policy, publishers that purchase an ad to promote a politically themed article will be placed alongside ads from political advocacy groups. A disclaimer will appear with the post.
What this policy makes clear is Facebook does not, under any circumstances, understand or value journalism.
That isn’t to say that the company doesn’t try, albeit in minuscule and sometimes devastating ways. Since the 2016 presidential election, Facebook has instituted several policies to try to combat the spread of fake news, including the demotion of publisher content in the newsfeed, which led to closing down or drastically reducing traffic to publishers in the process.
The tech company also launched the Facebook Journalism Project, intended to teach journalism professionals how to use social media tools for reporting and storytelling.
Despite these initiatives (offerings?), journalism still comes out on the bottom on Facebook. Why? It could be that the company views journalism more as sport that a pillar of democracy.
The public is regularly being fed fake news by dubious organizations that are attempting to sway opinion on government and its leaders. If Facebook believed in the importance of the press, it would act swiftly and deeply to fix this mess.
Adam Mosseri, the Facebook executive once in charge of the platform’s news feed, recently spoke to a crowd in San Francisco about the company's relationship with the media. (Mosseri will now run Instagram.)
Mosseri claims there are too many outlets across too many countries to ever control the spread of fake news. While he stated Facebook does believe news is important, as is keeping people informed, he balked at the idea of the company vetting the news that runs through its site.
Mosseri stated: “There are a billion pieces of content posted every day, and tens of millions of publishers, so it is just not possible for us to have someone read every post and decide what is trustworthy. So we tried to design a ranking system that would focus on trust but be difficult to game. It’s not just a popularity contest.
"Even if lots of people say a source is trustworthy that doesn’t necessarily mean we will rank it highly, because it might just appeal to a narrow group of supporters. We look at how broad that trust is — we’re trying to look at the idea of broad experience, common ground, shared viewpoints to help prevent polarization.”
That ranking system was quickly viewed by media as a cop out.
This latest effort is similarly damaging.
In response to Facebook’s unveiling of the new sorting system, David Chavern, president-CEO of the News Media Alliance, addressed a letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg last Friday. He stated: “News gathering and reporting about politics is not the same thing as advocacy or politics.
"The role of news is to help people understand the issues of the day, which is critical to a functioning democracy. Understanding those issues and the various points of view about them is independent of advocating outcomes.”
The mess that has resulted from a tech giant being one of the largest delivery systems of news to the public will likely never be undone — and the slow burn of it taking hold is terrifying itself.
Hopefully, one of Facebook’s “fixes” will result in real and positive change for both journalism and users of the platform, rather than another late-game rule change in a losing battle for publishers.