Facebook Using Human ‘News Tab’ Curators Is Admission Of Editorial Responsibility

Finally the social media company puts a foot right in the ongoing battle against fake news and disinformation

Facebook plans to use journalists as part of efforts to restore its reputation as a reputable source of information with a new mobile app ‘News Tab’ initiative.

What will the ‘News Tab’ involve?

The new ‘News Tab’ venture will involve a team of editors working to curate the latest relevant news stories for Facebook users. The initiative marks a departure from the algorithm-based approach currently used by Facebook to recommend content to its users.

Alma Dale Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, said: “Our goal with the News Tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people.”

Human curation is not a new idea; in 2015, Apple announced that they planned to use curators to determine what stories people see on the Apple News app. Plenty of newsrooms use a team of human editors and journalists to determine which stories appear on their homepage, including Medium.

As well as using veteran journalists to control the stories that social media users see, Facebook has also been approaching publishers, hoping to strike content-sharing deals, where the social network would license and display articles from reputable news outlets inside its mobile app.

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This news aggregation approach would hopefully reduce some of the negative effects of filter bubbles and echo chambers on social media.

What are the benefits of human curation?

I spoke to Press Association content producer Connor Parker who said:

“Algorithms do help, they record the data from previous clicks and suggest stories based on that, and there may be a time where it takes over completely. But right now, the world of news is so full of nuance that a robot will never be able to pick up on it. And you can’t just tell a robot what people like. Generally, you can bet on a crime story being a winner. But that doesn’t mean all crime is a winner, if one is particularly gruesome it might be the right decision not to post it altogether.”

Having experienced journalists deciding what content users see can help enforce editorial standards, such as reducing the attention given to stories which might lead to copy-cat behaviour e.g. the Momo Challenge hoax.

Mr Parker added:

“You’re also a human — one of the key ways I choose content is by searching through all of our feeds and if one headline stands out, and my simple human interest instinctively leads me to click on it, that’s a winner. Now I don’t represent the whole audience of our readers, but that natural human instinct for knowledge and learning can’t be measured by a robot — at least not yet.”

The work that Mr Parker and other news curators do is important because it provides social media users with accurate sources of information about what’s going on in the world that will interest them, because they were selected by people who understand what makes people tick.

But human curation and news aggregation needs to cover the breadth of the political spectrum if the democratic process is to function properly. Facebook users need to feel that the news they are reading is objective, and if motivated by any editorial political agenda, this should be signposted clearly by the publisher.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

What’s the point in the ‘News Tab’?

It’s no secret that fake news is a growing problem, one that has caused people’s trust in the journalism to decline. Facebook wants to be a place where people go to get information (and therefore spend more time on its app), but because of its role in the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, trust isn’t the word that springs to mind when someone says ‘Facebook’.

The social media company faced widespread criticism and a hefty $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commision for their role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Part of the problem is that Facebook users weren’t aware that they were being targeted by political propaganda in the run up to the 2016 US election, with Cambridge Analytica targeting ‘persuadables’ in swing states to vote in favour of Donald Trump using ‘wicked Hillary’ ad campaigns.

The company is attempting to clean up their act and restore trust in their brand, which is why they also announced the new ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ tool earlier this week, which gives social media users more agency over their personal data.

Why separate the ‘News Tab’ from the News Feed?

It might seem odd to keep the ‘News Tab’ separate from the ‘News Feed’ — the place where you see status updates from your friends and liked pages — but this decision is crucial. The new ‘News Tab’ should help Facebook users to distinguish between targeted political messaging, and genuine news stories about political misconduct by keeping them separate.

The News Tab, if done properly, will be a place to get the cold hard facts, whereas the News Feed should become more like a Comments Feed, with users responding to the issues of the day and colouring the facts with their own political views and life experiences.

Facebook hopes to release a test of the ‘News Tab’ before the end of the year. The social media giant’s decision to bring human curators on board is a sign that it is finally beginning to take the editorial responsibilities that accompany being a media organisation with a whopping 2.41 billion monthly users seriously. Frankly, the new ‘News Tab’ can’t come soon enough.

What do you think about the news that Facebook plans to bring journalists in to help curate its new ‘News Tab’?

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