Facebook, grappling with its role as a primary source of news for many of its users — and a source of revenue and reach on which media organizations increasingly rely, is launching a new initiative to help journalism 'thrive."
The move is intended to "establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry," according to a lengthy announcement published Wednesday by Fidji Simo, the social network's director of product.
The Facebook Journalism Project, as it is being called, consists of three pillars: improved collaboration between Facebook and media organizations on the creation new and financially sustainable products and storytelling formats, training and tools for journalists, and efforts to promote news literacy and curb the spread of what Facebook calls "news hoaxes."
Though not addressed directly, the announcement comes after months of criticism, in which Facebook has been widely blamed for enabling the spread of "fake news" — which is often used to describe the sort of too-good-to-be-true-sounding articles on partisan issues written to deceive readers and defraud advertisers.
Some people, even within Facebook, have wondered if the spread of such articles may have influenced the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election — a charge that co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed.
Curbing 'news hoaxes'
Facebook, which describes itself in the announcement as "a new kind of platform" — but never a media company — has long believed its role is that of a support player, working closely with media and publishing partners, but rarely becoming involved in editorial decisions regarding what is and is not news.
This won't change with Facebook's new initiative. Rather, the company has reconfirmed its intent to work with third-parties — journalists, fact-checkers, and researchers — on efforts to promote media literacy, and determine what is and isn't fake news.
The company is doing some of this already. It announced last month that it would begin working with some members of the Poynter International Fact-Checking Network to confirm the veracity of popular articles shared by Facebook users.
According to Simo, the company will also be working with the News Literacy Project to create a series of "public service ads" on the subject in the near term.
Facebook plays an ever-increasing role in the success of media organizations, in many cases driving large swaths of traffic to news sites. At the same time, when Facebook makes changes to the content its users see on the site — changes that are not always communicated ahead of time — media companies have seen their fortunes drop, some dramatically so.
Now, Facebook says that it will connect news organizations with its product and engineering teams "from the early stages of the product development process" on the creation of new products. How this collaborative process will work in practice — and which organizations will be allowed to work closely with Facebook — remains unclear.
Also of note is Facebook's interest in supporting local news — an area of reporting that has suffered in an era of newsroom buyouts and financial troubles, and which has proven difficult to financially support online.
"We're interested in exploring what we can build together with our partners to support local news and promote independent media," Simo wrote, adding the initiative is "in its earliest stages."