Monday 20 August 2018

Facebook snubs media group's plan for political labels

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Naomi Nix

While Facebook has said that it wants to draw the line between news and misinformation, the company has turned down an offer to work with a news media trade group to help resolve a conflict.

News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern this week offered a plan that would relieve some news organisations of a new Facebook requirement for any ads they buy that promote their articles about politics placed in a public database alongside the ad information of political candidates and groups.

His proposal would involve creating a list of media organisations that are deemed credible and would be exempt from the requirement.

In an email obtained by Bloomberg News, Campbell Brown, Facebook's head of news partnerships, responded by saying the company would "take your suggestions to heart" but said the company planned to negotiate with publishers directly.

"We are working directly with publishers and have been having a lot of conversations with them about the best approach," she added.

"We all agree that more transparency is important, so any solution must meet those goals. We will share our plans soon. Thanks again for your input."

Chavern said in a statement that Facebook was attempting to "splinter the news industry by silencing the squeakiest wheel and leave the rest of the industry screaming." 'The New York Times', the 'Washington Post' and the 'Wall Street Journal' are among the members of the News Media Alliance.

While Facebook wants to move forward with plans to label election advertising as political, some of the most politicised content comes from websites masquerading as news publishers.

To regular news publishers, any broad labelling of the news as political content would imply bias.

But a solution that exempted certain publishers would put Facebook in the position of deciding outright what the real news is, and therefore not appearing neutral with content.

Facebook first announced it was starting a political advertisement archive last year as it was facing criticism over Russian operatives' use of the site to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Menlo Park, California, company later came up with a plan to disclose when news organisations pay to increase exposure of articles on politics, and store details about the demographics of who saw their ads and how much was spent in an archive that includes ads for politicians and political groups.

The articles news organisations promoted would include labels specifying "paid for by," just like the political ads.

The News Media Alliance argued that if Facebook lumps the promotion of news stories with political advocacy on its platform, it will be elevating less credible news sources and erode the public's trust in the media.

"Your plan to group quality publishers alongside political advocacy, which the ad archive will do, dangerously blurs the lines between real reporting and propaganda," Chavern said in a letter last Friday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

"This treatment of quality news as political, even in the context of marketing, is deeply problematic."

"We're making changes that impact political and issue ads with new labels and a searchable archive," Brown said in a statement on Friday.

"We recognise the news content about politics is different." (Bloomberg)

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