Facebook Unveils News Tab to Combat Spread of Fake News, Appease Critics

Facebook is taking its most dramatic step to date to combat the spread of fake news on the far-reaching platform by introducing a “News” tab on its U.S. user interface that will serve up stories from credible news organizations.

Facebook has partnered with a number of established print, TV and digital outfits to provide stories for the tab, including the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, CBS News and Fox News in addition to some of Fox’s local TV stations, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Gannett, NPR, Time, the New Yorker, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, New York Post and BuzzFeed.

For now, Facebook is positioning the News tab as a test, which initially will be available to about 200,000 U.S. users.

The company emphasized that it consulted at length with major publishers and surveyed more than 100,000 Facebook users to design the Facebook News initiative. The News tab will emphasize stories about entertainment, health, business and sports, based on the interests that were reported in the survey of users.

Facebook also said it has assembled a team of journalists to help curate the major national stories that populate the tab, which the social giant claimed will have “editorial independence” to select stories based on publicly available guidelines (available at facebook.com/news). Facebook is also working on an algorithm to help surface more locally tailored content for the platform that reaches some 69% of U.S. adults, according to Pew Research Center stats.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s VP of global news partnerships, and Mona Sarantakos, product manager of news, unveiled the new feature in a Facebook blog post published Friday.

“Today we’re starting to test Facebook News, a dedicated place for news on Facebook, to a subset of people in the US. News gives 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,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote. “It also highlights the most relevant national stories of the day.”

Facebook has been roundly criticized for failing to clamp down on the exponential growth of fake accounts that turn out clickbait and incendiary headlines. Russia’s now well-documented efforts to sway public opinion in the U.S. revolved around spreading insidious and erroneous information on Facebook and other social media platforms — often with posts dressed up to look like legitimate news stories.

Facebook has also faced a barrage of criticism from the right in the U.S. over perceived liberal bias in its algorithms that help determine what content is circulated widely across the platform, which claims more than 2.4 billion monthly active users worldwide.

The Facebook execs pointed to the company’s detailed guidelines for its selection of stories and news purveyors. Those include “a range of integrity signals in determining product eligibility, including misinformation — as identified based on third-party fact checkers — community standards violations (e.g., hate speech), clickbait, engagement bait and others,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote. “Lastly, they must serve a sufficiently large audience, with different thresholds for the four categories of publishers.”

Undoubtedly, Facebook will pay news partners for use of their content. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the parent company of the Wall Street Journal and a sister company to Fox News and Fox Television Stations, has been among the most vocal critics of Google and other tech giants for aggregating content without paying the providers. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson were set to make an appearance together at New York’s Paley Center for Media Friday to formally unveil the News Tab initiative.

“We talked to news organizations about what they’d like to see included in a news tab, how their stories should be presented, and what analytics to provide,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote. “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.”

Facebook’s post outlined the features of the Facebook News tab:

  • Today’s Stories chosen by a team of journalists to catch you up on the news throughout the day
  • Personalization 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 also said the initial test of the News tab will showcase local original reporting from publications in large major metro areas across the U.S., beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington, D.C., Miami, Atlanta and Boston. In next few months, Facebook News will incorporate local news from Today In, the company’s local news and community information tab, which recently expanded to over 6,000 U.S. towns and cities.

Todd Spangler contributed to this report.

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