OPINION: Facebook has said that it will be using human curators for News Tab, a new section of the Facebook app dedicated to news aggregation.
It represents a clear attempt from the social network to repair the damage its algorithms and fake news has done to its reputation.
But should we trust it? Let’s see.
The first question we need to ask ourselves is, do we trust Facebook to deliver us impartial and fact-checked news?
Unfortunately for Facebook, the answer to that question is a solid “no”.
That’s mainly because of two things; short-sighted algorithms and being too willing to accept post-promoting dollars from questionable sources.
Launching a human-curated “News Tab” should solve the fake news problem instantly, providing the right journalists and editors are hired to manage the service. And needs to be encouraged.
But this will open up another can of worms when it comes to political bias. Will Facebook be able to remain impartial? Will it be a left-leaning or right-leaning news aggregator? Only time will tell.
Another big question is whether Facebook will grant its curators editorial independence. For this service to work, it cannot be influenced by advertisers.
This problem isn’t unique to Facebook. But with its massive user base, and track record of accepting money from what I would describe as “dodgy” sources, the concern here is more prevalent.
If News Tab wants to be credible, then it needs to come up with credible solutions to each of these problems. And I’m a long way from confident that it will.
The next question we need to understand is why Facebook is doing this?
Fortunately, the answer to that is simple. Back in January Facebook announced it was taking its News Feed back to its roots – connecting friends with each other. There’s one problem with this; it doesn’t sell.
The mad “content” your family and friends post isn’t as engaging to users as the professionally-generated content it’s just turned the tap off to. Which makes selling advertisements a lot harder.
Facebook is setting up News Tab to start earning money from journalism again. It’s suggested that it’s going to partner with selected news publishers in a revenue-share model.
But I think content creators need to be wary. Facebook has been toying with the news industry for nearly a decade now.
Early on, it dangled the carrot of its billion-strong user base in front of publishers and it, initially, looked like a good deal for publishers.
Brands could create their own pages on Facebook for free and readers could receive all the latest news and content on their favourite social media platform.
Facebook provided a way to get extra eyeballs on content that newspaper and magazine websites otherwise wouldn’t have got.
But something much more sinister was happening. Facebook was developing an eco-system that was designed to keep users within the Facebook eco-system.
Clicking to read a news story in the Facebook mobile app would load the article in the Facebook mobile browser. Not your mobile device’s native browser that is normally Chrome or Safari.
Why? Because this kept Facebook in control of how adverts were served to you.
Publishers who relied on Facebook for their online traffic were now facing a difficult business equation. They had to pay journalists to create content, then publish it online for free. Then hope Facebook’s algorithm would deliver its content to enough users in order to return a profit from on-page advertisers.
Facebook created a monster that only really worked for Facebook. Not the publishers. And as we’ve since learned, not the general public either.
I’m very sceptical. And you should be too.