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Facebook begins testing Facebook News – what it entails for publishers

On 25th October, Facebook started to test Facebook News as a dedicated place for news on Facebook. This test is available is only available to a subset of US citizens. This will give people more control over the stories they see and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests directly within the Facebook app. It also highlights the most relevant national stories of the day. News articles will continue to appear in News Feed as they normally do. 

Facebook in a blog said “Journalism plays a critical role in our democracy. When news is deeply-reported and well-sourced it gives people information they can rely on. When it’s not, we lose an essential tool for making good decisions. People want and benefit from personalised experiences on Facebook, but we know there is reporting that transcends individual experience. We want to support both.” 

Facebook changed their approach to gather insight from journalists and publishers before they started developing the product. Mark Zuckerberg, in a conversation with Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Europe’s Axel Springer, said, “We wanted to build this product in a consultative way, sharing our ideas and getting input from the industry. We talked to news organisations about what they’d like to see included in a news tab, how their stories should be presented and what analytics to provide.” 

Facebook identified the following key features after talking to people and publishers to make Facebook news valuable: 

  • Today’s Stories chosen by a team of journalists to catch you up on the news throughout the day
  • Personalisation based on the news you read, share and follow, so you can find new interests and topics and Facebook News is fresh and interesting every time you open it
  • Topic sections to dive deeper into business, entertainment, health, science & tech, and sports
  • Your Subscriptions, a section for people who have linked their paid news subscriptions to their Facebook account
  • Controls to hide articles, topics and publishers you don’t want to see

Facebook mentioned in a blog post that “Regarding personalisation, publishers worry that machine learning has limits and they’re right. We have progress to make before we can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination. We also aim to serve both people and news publishers, and not just the big national players. We want new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism, to flourish. So, we will continue to expand the algorithmic selection of stories driving the majority of Facebook News.” 

They further mentioned that “When we started talking to news organisations about building Facebook News earlier this year, they emphasised that original reporting is more expensive to produce and better recognised by seasoned journalists than by algorithms. So, to help reward this kind of work, we formed a curation team to manage the Today’s Stories section of Facebook News. The team will have editorial independence and will select stories based on publicly available guidelines, which you can learn about at facebook.com/news.” 

What You Can Expect to See in Facebook News 

Facebook News will feature a wide range of content across four categories of publishers, which include: general, topical, diverse and local news. Facebook surveyed over 100,000 people on Facebook in the US about what topics they were most interest in and they found out that they were under serving many topics people wanted most in their News Feeds, especially categories like entertainment, health, sports and business. Facebook took this into consideration. 

How did they identify the publishers? They need to be in the News Page Index of Facebook. They also need to abide by Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines, which include a range of integrity signals in determining product eligibility, including misinformation – as identified on third party fact checkers – community standards violations like hate speech, clickbait, engagement bait and others. Facebook will continue to check page’s integrity status to ensure eligibility criteria is consistently being met. Lastly, the publishers must serve a sufficiently large audience, with different thresholds for the four categories of publishers. 

The criteria will evolve over time to make sure people are seeing sources that are valuable to them and that Facebook is including reporting across these topics. 

During the initial test, Facebook will showcase local original reporting by surfacing local publications from the largest major metro areas across the US, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta and Boston. In the coming months, they’ll include local news from Today In, the local news and community information tab. 

The blog lastly mentioned that “Facebook News was built to bring people closer to the stories that affect their lives. We’ll continue to learn, listen and improve News as it rolls out more broadly. We hope this work aids in our effort to sustain great journalism and strengthen democracy.”

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