Stock in the New York Times Company rose a whopping 8.4% on Friday, following an announcement by Facebook that it would give priority in its News Feed to trusted news sources. Some other news and publishing organizations, including Fox News parent company News Corp, made smaller gains.
Facebook’s announcement indicated that it will factor in community ratings of trustworthiness into the algorithms that govern users’ News Feeds.
That stands to benefit the most trusted news organizations — though the impact on the Times‘ stock seems somewhat disproportionate. In a 2017 survey from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the Times ranked in the middle of the pack on public trust, behind outlets including the Wall Street Journal, PBS, and Time, published by Fortune parent company Time, Inc.
News Corp stock rose just 1.23% on the news. Its Fox News channel was not highly rated in the Reynolds survey, though the Wall Street Journal, also owned by News Corp, was.
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Facebook’s announcement was greeted with some cautious optimism, but just as many lingering questions. Skeptics highlighted that, by relying on users to rank sources, Facebook is once again abdicating any responsibility for evaluating content itself. The survey system could wind up reflecting skewed perspectives that Facebook itself has allowed to flourish in recent years.
In short, if many readers already can’t tell what news sources are trustworthy, polling Facebook’s users about who to trust seems like a futile exercise.
That said, by at least focusing on sources with some sort of reputation, Facebook seems likely to do away with the sort of outright fake news that proliferated prior to 2017, such as the mini-empire of fraudulent news sites run by one Jestin Coler and profiled by NPR in 2016. That’s likely to be a boon to news sources with established track records, and may provide real incentives for organizations to hold to higher standards in the long term.