After months of testing, and after reportedly securing multi-million dollar agreements with publishers, Facebook's new, dedicated - trusted - News tab has arrived.
???? Introducing Facebook News - a dedicated news tab starting to roll out today in the US pic.twitter.com/Mrkx6CGWaq— Facebook (@facebook) October 25, 2019
As you can see, the format is pretty simple - Facebook is adding a new tab to the top navigation bar within the app which will take you through to its News content listing. From there, users will be able to view the latest news by topic, hide sections or publications, get a general news update - basically, the tab is designed to cater to your personal news needs every day, with a curated listing of content from approved providers, many of whom, as noted, Facebook has signed partnership agreements with.
Should go off without a hitch, right? I see no possibility of Facebook being accused of bias, or scrutinized for the content it chooses to highlight - as occurred with its previous Trending News section.
It should be fine. Right?
(If you listen close, you can already hear non-mainstream outlets grinding their teeth).
Of course, Facebook is going to be accused of bias, and of amplifying certain outlets over others in order to skew public opinion.
In its accompanying notes, Facebook says that publishers' whose content will be eligible to appear in its News tab will need to:
"...be in our News Page Index, which we developed in collaboration with the industry to identify news content. They also need to abide by Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines, these 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."
The News Page Index is a listing of Facebook verified news pages, and Facebook says that any Page which primarily creates journalism should seek this verification. And if they want to make it to the News tab, they'll have to.
In order to be verified and listed, Pages will be checked for adherence to a range of qualifiers, including:
"Pages that repeatedly share misinformation are not be eligible to register as news Pages. If our fact-checking partners find a registered news Page to be repeatedly sharing misinformation, registration for that Page may be revoked."
Facebook says that approval is also dependent on these pages citing sources for published facts, providing transparency around reporters and editorial staff, and primarily publishing content "that's not user-generated or aggregated from other websites".
By forcing Pages to submit to these guidelines, Facebook should, theoretically, be able to create a more trustworthy, accurate, and informative News tab, weeding out a lot of the less credible outlets.
But as noted, that will lead to accusations of bias.
Who decides what's true these days? What's fake news and what isn't? According to US President Donald Trump, the majority of the mainstream media is 'fake news', and his supporter base will no doubt agree with him. And if those outlets show up in Facebook's News tab...?
It seems like Facebook's setting itself up for a fight with conservative groups, in particular - so why is Facebook doing this? What will Facebook gain from creating a dedicated News tab - if it can even get people to tap across to it?
This is the most interesting element of Facebook's new News play. As noted by TechCrunch's Josh Constine, over the years, Facebook has repeatedly sought to make news content a priority on its platform, then subsequently changed its mind - and each time it has, it's sent major ripples through the media sector, some of which have resulted in significant job losses.
On one hand, Facebook wants more news content so it can maximize its hold on attention - with the majority of Americans now getting at least some news content from Facebook, catering to them with a dedicated tab could help Facebook keep them locked inside its walls for longer.
But that doesn't necessarily benefit publishers - if more people are consuming more news on Facebook, that's not helping the publishers monetize their traffic, either through referrals back to their own websites (where they can serve ads) or subscriptions.
That's why Facebook has sought to make monetary deals with publishers, and add in all the elements they've been calling for, including links to publications which Facebook users subscribe to outside the platform, and clear publisher branding on each story to help better establish audience connection.
From a business standpoint, the tab will ideally help Facebook build a better engagement eco-system, encouraging people to discuss these latest news stories on platform, thereby enabling Facebook to serve more ads.
It might also help Facebook develop relationships with publishers which could lead to them publishing more exclusive video content on Facebook Watch - with news content potentially a key opportunity for online video providers.
If Facebook can become more of a resource for news, both in the News tab and via Watch exclusives, it could steal a lot more attention. In this sense, there is a clear business imperative to Facebook's renewed News push. If, again, it can make it work.
The other, more optimistic take here is that Facebook, by building a 'trusted' news stream, is working to reduce the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platform, by highlighting reputable, fact-checked, accurate news content instead.
Indeed, Facebook has hired a team of journalists to curate the 'Today’s Stories' section of Facebook News, and that team will be adhering to a broad set of guidelines:
So maybe, Facebook's renewed news push is more about accepting the fact that it is now part of the news distribution system, and if it's going to play a part, it needs to be more responsible about the content it shares.
However, your main News Feed will not be impacted by the arrival of Facebook News, at least not initially. Users will still see the same news content as always in their home feed. So, if nothing changes, outside of adding a new section, what impact will it really have?
And that, really, is a key point at this stage - while the arrival of a separate News section could have various impacts, as noted, the question is 'will people even bother to tap into this new stream?'
Facebook has previously noted that the success of its Watch platform is a model for its News tab - but Watch is only used by around 6% of Facebook's total user base each day. That still equates to some 140 million people, a significant number in a broader sense, but it's not a huge percentage of Facebook's audience.
So if a similar number of users tap through on the News tab, maybe it will also be considered a success?
Facebook, of course, could add in News Feed prompts and other measures to get users across to the News tab, but it could be difficult to get users to dig further into Facebook, especially when Facebook's active usage is reportedly in decline, with users switching to other platforms.
That'll be the next key thing to watch - Facebook may only need a small amount of users to tap into the stream to make it a success, but it'll need a lot for the News tab to have any real impact or influence on people's perspective. If the aim is for Facebook to make money off its News tab, the former could be fine, but if the intention is for the News section to have real, societal impact and benefit, it'll need a lot of people to use it.
It's difficult to see that happening. Facebook has the power to make it so - and it'll be particularly interesting if, a few months in, Facebook announces that distribution of news content in the main News Feed will be reduced in favor of the News Tab instead. That would be a real, significant shift, but as it's currently presented, it might not have a huge impact in its initial stages.
Either way, it's early days - the new Facebook News tab will be tested with a subset of users in the US before a broader roll out in the near future.