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Why Facebook Wants Its Say in the Future of Journalism

January 12, 2017, 3:07 PM UTC

On a day when the next President of the United States treated the news media with contempt, Facebook accelerated its campaign to cozy up to the Fourth Estate.

The social media site on Wednesday announced the Facebook Journalism Project, a concerted effort to help media organizations benefit from Facebook @facebook(FB) and to spitball ideas to help its users discern between fake and real news. “We want to do our part,” Facebook said, “to enable people to have meaningful conversations, to be informed and to be connected to each other.”

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As someone who has studied the company’s messaging through the prism of its CEO’s leadership style, permit me the opportunity to explicate Facebook’s corporatese. By “doing its part,” Facebook is acknowledging that it has been hammered for being a platform for lies, partisan drivel, and worse. “To enable … meaningful conversations” reflects Facebook’s tacit understanding that its platform is more echo chamber than discovery mechanism. As for “to be connected to each other,” that simply reaffirms Facebook’s core mission. The message: We’ll help you so we can keep making gobs of money.

As to the substance of its new project, Facebook promised three areas of focus. It will involve news organizations earlier in its product development, no longer treating the industry whose business it is gutting as an afterthought. It will invest in tools to help publishers thrive on Facebook. As well, it will invest to help its more benighted users discriminate between real news and the other thing.

It’s hard to assess Facebook’s sincerity here, but who cares? Facebook fears a backlash for having helped hollow out a news media that performs a service it isn’t willing to shoulder. If its response, heartfelt or not, is to grope in the dark for ways to help journalism succeed, well, that’s better than overtly showing it contempt.