Complex Made Simple

Why now is the time to end ‘fake news’ on Facebook?

Facebook has been under fire for a multitude of issues ranging from data privacy to fake news. Now, after multiple complaints, hearings and GDPR, it has to fix at least some of them.

Facebook has been saying for a long time that it has tied up with external fact-checkers but its stringent control on sharing information with them is leading to their frustration, and eventually, inefficiency.

READ: A peaceful corner of the gulf feels the strain

Fake news doesn’t only live on social and online platforms though. It has led to real-life implications like “Pizzagate,” where in a man walked into a bar in the US to investigate an online fake news scandal.

Regional publishers are trying to take matters into their own hands. During Top CEO 2018, a private roundtable was held to discuss the state of the industry and the need for regulation. Since then, several conversations with senior industry execs and officials have taken place to get the initiative moving. Julien Hawari, co-CEO of leading publishing and events company Mediaquest, said, “Our region is at an unfair disadvantage due to the lack of regulation of the big tech giants. It is important to have this discussion and take actions to preserve the industry. I need to stress that this initiative is not about restricting access to anyone, but about harmonizing and leveling the playing field to create a fair competition.”

READ: Bahrain is not in a good place financially, as debt soars

It doesn’t help that Facbeook’s algorithm, in fact, pushes stories that are more popular – regardless of their authenticity. Its algorithm pushes content that has the potential for virality, which in most cases is “stories of cats falling off the couch,” versus quality content, said Ihab El Yaman, head of mobile and performance director at mobile audience network MEmob. “Facebook should limit these videos and/or at least give priority to educational content. I can’t remember when was the last time I watched an effective educational piece of content on Facebook; it has been ages,” adds Yaman.

Now, Facebook is trying to create balance by getting rid of some old features that promote fake news and introducing new ones that will help combat it.

READ: Life after oil for the UAE?

On June 1, Facebook announced it would reconfigure how news spreads across the social network by eliminating “trending,” a feature that often caused head scratching by users and media watchers who found it hard to understand why certain topics and issues rose to the top above others.

“We’re removing Trending soon to make way for future news experiences on Facebook. We introduced Trending in 2014 as a way to help people discover news topics that were popular across the Facebook community. However, it was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to news publishers on average. From research, we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful. We will remove Trending from Facebook next week and we will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API,” justifies Alex Hardiman, head of news products, in his blog post.

READ: UAE among top charitable countries this Ramadan

There will also be new “breaking news” alerts on certain posts. Currently, it is being tested with 80 publishers across North America, South America, Europe, India and Australia and lets publishers put a “breaking news” indicator on their posts in News Feed.

And there’s also a section inside Facebook called “Today In” to highlight local news from local publishers, as well as updates from local officials and organizations.

Facebook also pointed to the news section it was creating for Watch, which is the video service that is similar to YouTube.

“We will soon have a dedicated section on Facebook Watch in the US where people can view live coverage, daily news briefings and weekly deep dives,” adds Hardiman in the blog post.

The social network tapped CNN and Fox News as two of its showcase media partners for a news initiative it has been working on for months under Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, according to people familiar with the deals.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that CNN and Fox News were joining Facebook to create news programs, and that Shepard Smith would be the face of Fox’s new digital news program.

READ: Dubai may have low unemployment rate, but job unhappiness is high

The inclusion of Fox News and CNN is a sign that Facebook was trying to walk a fine line of building a media product from scratch while maintaining impartiality over political leanings (CNN often described as leaning left while Fox News has a reputation as being more conservative-leaning).

”There has been so much talk about ‘fake news’ and questions about Facebook’s role in deciding who are the good and bad actors,” says a person close to one of the media companies involved in Facebook’s news push. “Facebook was worried about how all this would be portrayed and really tried to lean into the heavy hitters, so they can step back and say this is the news product with trusted news companies.”

Facebook has been in talks with a number of legacy media companies and digital publishers to create a news section inside Watch, a video service that resembles YouTube and lives inside the social network. Facebook wants to curate shows from established media partners – some daily and some weekly – a place where it has some control over the quality of news that disseminates over its platform.

Facebook is paying television networks and digital publishers to create shows in deals that can amount to millions of dollars over the course of a year, and it is able to run ads during the programs, the revenue it splits with the media partners, according to people familiar with the deal structure.

READ: 42% of UAE residents don’t know how to budget

Not all the media participants were finalized, and Facebook had talked to all the major networks, including NBC, CBS and ABC, according to people familiar with the process. It has also been talking to digital publishers BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media’s NowThis and ATTN.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

Facebook is set to announce the first round of media partners next week, and shows are expected to premiere in July.