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Facebook Bought This Little Startup to Fix a Big News Problem

November 11, 2016, 5:32 PM UTC
Facebook Inc. Launches Facebook At Work
The Facebook Inc. logo sits on screens ahead of the global launch event of "Workplace" at the Facebook Inc. offices in London, U.K., on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016.
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Facebook is buying CrowdTangle, a small media-tracking company with an outsized influence among publishers and news sites that want to measure and boost the presence of their content on the social network.

News of the deal, minus financial details, was disclosed by CrowdTangle on Friday. The Baltimore-based startup, sometimes described as a “social listening” company, said its goal is to help “publishers identify great stories, measure social performance, and identify influencers.”

Given that Facebook (FB) itself has become a powerful media company that it is both an outlet for and competitor to traditional publishers, this acquisition is of note.

Early last year, Fast Company reported that CrowdTangle, unlike other companies, didn’t waste time trying to figure out the secret algorithms Facebook used to determine what will get shown on the site. Instead, it focused on showing which type of content actually worked best so publishers could mimic it.

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CrowdTangle gives customers a dashboard displaying how their own posts—or those of their competitors and other select groups—perform relative to the norm. This comes in handy for promoting great, reliable content. It can also help track how widespread fake or misleading stories have become.

For example, CrowdTangle showed that one false story recounting that ballots for Hillary Clinton were found in an Ohio warehouse a month before the election, was shared 6.1 million times, according to CNN Money.

Fake news posts like these provoked a firestorm of criticism this election cycle, culminating this week with critics saying these fraudulent Facebook news may have swayed the U.S. presidential election. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed that contention on Thursday.

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Four-year-old CrowdTangle, which had about $2.2 million in seed funding, already claims some big-name customers, including The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, Vox, Upworthy, and WGBH a public radio and TV affiliate in Boston.