After months of trying to avoid the suggestion that their platform is now, in fact, a media outlet, Facebook has today announced a new project which aims to help them improve their ties with journalists and the news reporting community.
Simply called 'The Facebook Journalism Project', the new initiative includes several aspects, with a large focus, as Facebook notes, on "working with publishers and educators on how we can equip people with the knowledge they need to be informed readers in the digital age."
Or, in another interpretation, how they can limit the spread of fake news and avoid becoming the focal point for such issues.
The project has three core elements, all of which have impacts in a range of areas.
1. 'Collaborative Development of News Products'
The first element of the project looks to repair some of the Facebook's ties to the journalism and wider media community, which have been strained, at times, due to Facebook's efforts to keep users within Facebook, and away from outside platforms.
This is most evident in the development of their Instant Articles product - Instant Articles is a great way to present publisher content in a mobile-friendly, responsive format, with a heap of Facebook-specific tools and options to improve presentation. The catch is that the content is uploaded to Facebook direct, which reduces traffic back to publisher sites, where they can more effectively monetize it and gather data on usage.
As Facebook notes:
"We can better serve the needs of people on Facebook, and those of our partners, when we work together to develop products. While we've worked with our news partners on this in the past, as part of the Facebook Journalism Project we'll begin an even deeper collaboration with news organizations across the spectrum, connecting our product and engineering teams so that we can build together from the early stages of the product development process."
The first example of this has also been announced today, with Facebook looking to provide publishers with a new way to present packages of their content to their most engaged readers by uploading multiple Instant Articles to a single post.
As you can see from the image (kind of), publishers will be able to choose the articles they want included and a cover image or video to package them together in a set, creating a more magazine-like feel. The option is also very similar to Snapchat's Discover, which enables publishers to create their own experience within the app.
Users will also be able to subscribe to publishers digests and get notifications when a new collection goes live, another means of helping publishers build an audience through Instant Articles. Users will see this new format from selected publishers in the coming weeks.
UPDATE (1/13): Here's another example of how the new multiple Instant Articles posts, including the notification (in the last shot).
And for comparison, here's a Snapchat Discover publication.
Definitely bares some similarity.
In addition, Facebook's looking to support local news and promote independent media (through means as yet undefined), to run dedicated hackathons with developers from news organizations and to hold more meetings with publishers in the US and Europe to ensure they're getting more feedback on how to better facilitate collaboration with such organizations.
Facebook's also looking to investigate improved media business models, including adding new ways for publishers to grow their subscription funnels through Facebook, giving them more direct connection to their audiences.
"We'll also keep working on monetization options for partners, such as expanding our live ad break test to a wider group of partners, and exploring ad breaks in regular videos."
The new options could give publishers more impetus to work with Facebook in distributing their content, which is a win for Facebook, for sure, but ultimately, if the revenue models and tools are right, it could also be a key victory for news providers as they look to advance their revenue generation processes in line with audience trends.
2. 'Training and Tools for Journalists'
Facebook's also looking to ramp up their training and education tools for journalists.
"In addition to the newsroom training we currently offer, we're now conducting a series of e-learning courses on Facebook products, tools and services for journalists. We will be expanding these trainings to nine additional languages, and partnering with Poynter to launch a certificate curriculum for journalists in the months ahead."
But likely of more interest, Facebook's also making their recent acquisition CrowdTangle free for media publishers, public figures and individual content creators.
For those unaware, CrowdTangle, which Facebook acquired back in November, is a tool used by publishers to identify trends, measure social post performance and locate relevant influencers.
Used by some of big media publishers like BuzzFeed, Vox and Business Insider, CrowdTangle enables those publishers to tap into viral trends and events and ensure they're capitalizing on them with the right audiences.
Of course, access to the tool is limited to media members, but if you're interested in applying for access, you can do so here.
On top of this, Facebook's also looking to add more tools to Facebook Live to enable more journalistic use.
"Today, we're launching the ability for Page administrators to designate specific journalists as contributors, giving them the ability to go live on behalf of the Page, a change designed to make such reporting more flexible for newsrooms. In the future, we also want to bring to Profiles all the flexibility that the Live API provides to Pages, so journalists can use their professional equipment to go live. And, we're now going to offer journalists a simple way to see how their public videos are performing on their Facebook profiles."
Those new updates are available to all Facebook Page owners, while there's also a new set of Live tools being tested amongst Facebook Mentions users at present which could add even more functionality to the option.
And the last tool Facebook's working on to streamline the content process for journalists is a new way for journalists to to find, verify and publish eyewitness content sourced from the web - again with a focus on Facebook Live. As we've all seen, live-streaming is becoming a key window on the world, and an important way to connect us with what's happening. By making it easier to find relevant, valuable content in any context, Facebook is again looking to boost the importance of Live, while also upping the value of the platform as a journalistic resource.
3. 'Training and Tools for Everyone'
The last element of Facebook's renewed journalism focus relates specifically to curbing the spread of fake news by educating the public on how to improve 'news literacy'.
"As we seek to support journalism, we will also be working on new ways to help give people information so they can make smart choices about the news they read - and have meaningful conversations about what they care about. Some of this we'll do in direct partnership with journalists; at other points we'll work with educators and researchers."
As you may recall, Facebook, in response to the furore around the platform's role in the spread of fake news, recently announced a News Feed update and additional features designed to tackle the issue, including a new pop-up that warms people before they share potentially fake news.
Those measures are a good starting point, and Facebook's committed to continue working with third-party organizations to help develop better tools and processes to improve their content flow.
Facebook also notes that they're working with the News Literacy Project to produce a series of public service ads to help inform Facebook users about fake news, another effort to raise public awareness and limit the reach of such stories.
Of course, this is only one element of Facebook's problem - definitely, fake news is an issue, but the larger issue, in Facebook's case, is that the News Feed algorithm itself is effectively a tool for the reinforcement of your own beliefs. If someone posts something you don't agree with, you can shut them off, while the algorithm uses cues from the content you do engage with to show you more of the same. In this respect, fake reports only play a part - building your own echo chamber has a much more influential role in the process.
Think of it this way - if you were a Trump supporter during the most recent election cycle and all you were seeing were reports of how Hillary Clinton was being investigated by the FBI in those last weeks, would fake reports have even mattered? By shutting out alternate perspectives, Facebook helps reinforce such bias, and they're system is built on showing you more of what you like to keep you engaged. That presents a problem that's not so easily resolved, as its core to their business success.
But that said, it is good to see Facebook working to establish better connections with the media community, even if they're still not willing to admit to being a media platform themselves. For users, this will deliver more options for news consumption, and more tools to help eradicate fake and low quality content designed purely to get clicks.
In terms of brand application, the changes to Instant Articles will have flow on affects for all content creators as Facebook develops new tools and options, while the new Facebook Live tools will deliver great benefits as they're rolled out more widely.
It's interesting to see how the media landscape is evolving, and the challenges our new interactive platforms create. We've already seen the potential impacts those changes can have on the process. How social platforms - and Facebook in particular - work to resolve them will remain a crucial point of focus moving forward.