Commentary

Facebook Traffics In Journalism, But The Lines Are Blurry

There are calls for Facebook to take on a new model: Act like a regular media news organization.

But that seems dubious. For example, does that mean for all its content? Facebook would have to add thousands of editors and reporters.

Right now, go to your Facebook News Feed. Do you see headlines? You see stuff about relatives going out of town on vacation, photos of beautiful sunsets, unasked-for recipes on new ways to make Thanksgiving potatoes and people whining about their lives.

Are these the “lead” news stories? If one looks at Facebook as a journalistic enterprise -- TV, print or digital -- all this content is filtered in with real “news” and lesser-quality news content.

Now, as Facebook is plagued with persistent issues -- including measurement concerns from marketers, security breaches, a lower stock-market price and lackluster user growth -- transformation is coming.

A  year ago, "Facebook Journalism Project" was begun to train journalists, in large part to help journalists build good storytelling tools. At the time, one Facebook executive said these efforts were also taken to minimize hoaxes and fake news stories.

But making the bigger move? Not so fast. Acting like a more traditional news media organization means other things: Is there a real “church” and “state” partition here, where news organization’s “advertising” side doesn’t interfere with the “journalistic”-side?

Facebook does run plenty of straight-ahead journalism stories from newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and digital news organizations, which use Facebook for promotion. We also know there is plenty of dubious content. Facebook primarily re-distributes news content, a lot of it still unfiltered.

Facebook can spend the next several decades hiring thousands of ‘monitors’, editors, or whatever. But how will it catch up with the billions of pieces of information that need to be fact-checked?

Earlier this year, Facebook asked users to rank news organizations in term of “trust.” In May, it said it would “rank” news organizations by “trustiness,” based on user surveys.

Its current mode of operation still seems to be: Let Facebook users figure stuff out, act as editors, reporters, or whatever. The big question: Do they have the time and skills to do this? 

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