It remains somewhat controversial, but Facebook has announced that it will expand its dedicated News tab into the UK in January, the first region to get Facebook's 'trusted' feed of news content outside the US.
As you can see in this image of the US version, the News tab highlights key news updates from a listing of Facebook-approved sources, aligned with your interests. In order to be approved by Facebook, publications need to adhere to Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines, which 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."
Hence the controversy - the dedicated News tab is essentially hand-picked by Facebook, though it has been upfront about its selection process. Still, some would prefer Facebook stayed out of it, and now, UK users will have the option to choose whether to get their news content from the dedicated tab, or stick with what's shared in their News Feeds.
Facebook first launched its News tab in selected US cities back in October 2019, then expanded the roll-out to all of the US in June to help provide more coverage amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Facebook announced in August that it would be looking to expand the program in 2021, and the UK will become the first cab off the rank in the new year.
Facebook says that it's already signed deals with Archant, Conde Nast, The Economist, ESI Media, Guardian Media Group, Hearst, Iliffe, JPI Media, Midland News Association, Reach, and STV, which will see it share revenue with them for the usage of their content in the dedicated news tab.
"Facebook News offers a mix of curated and personalized top stories to deliver informative, reliable and relevant news. Readers see the top headlines and stories of the day alongside news personalized to their interests. During major news cycles, Facebook News provides timely news digests, highlighting original and authoritative reporting on pressing topics. Facebook News also helps people discover new topics and stories based on the news they read, share and follow."
It's hard to guess at what the impact of the tab will be - because users actually have to visit a dedicated tab, it likely won't change overall sharing behavior or discussion, which, you would assume, would limit its impact.
Still, Facebook says that it has seen some key successes with the US launch:
"We’ve found more than 95% of the traffic Facebook News delivers to publishers is new audiences that have not interacted with those news outlets in the past."
In this sense, it's less about weeding out misinformation than it is about establishing better connections with publishers, and with some publishing groups looking to make Facebook pay for the use of their content, this could help to establish better relationships moving forward.
In addition to this, Facebook has also announced an expansion of its Community News Programme in the UK, with an additional $US3 million to support local journalism.
In many ways, the News tab seems more PR than functionally valuable, but more verified news content on Facebook can only be a good thing, and it may help to counter the spread of false narratives.