Facebook is dabbling again in something that has earned it intense criticism in the past: the news.
The social network said on Tuesday that it wants to hire a small team of journalists to oversee an area on its service where users will be able to read news articles. The News Tab, which is expected to debut in the fall, will feature the biggest stories of the day, as selected by the journalists, along with articles chosen by algorithms that take into account users' interests and habits.
The company didn't disclosed details about the new feature or a date for its premiere, saying the tab is still being developed. That section will be located at the bottom of the Facebook app alongside Marketplace, Events, and Profile.
“Our goal with the News Tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Campbell Brown, head of Facebook’s news partnerships, said in a statement. “For the Top News section of the tab, we’re pulling together a small team of journalists to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
The announcement comes about a year after Facebook shut down Trending Topics, a feature on desktop computers-only that showed users popular topics being discussed across the social network based on algorithms. Before being shut down, the feature was slammed for spitting out misinformation, conspiracy theories, and politically-biased news.
When Trending Topics originally debuted in 2014, it was managed by a team of journalists, who quickly faced withering attacks after reportedly suppressing conservative news. Facebook laid off the journalists before switching to an automated system.
Facebook's return to curating news comes as it tries to make nice with publishers, many of which lost huge amounts of traffic after Facebook decided a year and a half ago to show users more posts from their friends and fewer news articles. Facebook, along with fellow social media services like Twitter, has also faced increasing accusations by conservatives that it deletes or downplays their posts because of liberal bias.
Facebook has denied that bias has anything to do with what appears or doesn't appear on its service. Instead, it says it bans users, including conservative conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, for violating its policies against hate speech and inciting violence based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
Facebook, which has long claimed it isn't a media company, said the journalists it hires for its new feature will solely be responsible for selecting top stories that appear in the upcoming news section. Journalists will not write articles or edit headlines, Facebook said.
The company emphasized that the Top News section will significantly differ from its predecessor, Trending Topics. The journalists managing it will have extensive experience and be Facebook employees rather than contractors with limited experience.
In 2015, Facebook introduced Instant Articles, which allowed publishers to post articles directly to Facebook. According to a study by Columbia Journalism Review, the feature was unpopular with publishers, who argued that they didn’t make enough money, gave them limited control over where ads appeared, and didn't provide the ability to track data related to the articles.
Hoping to avoid similar complaints, Facebook is, this time, working with a small group of publishers, and collecting feedback to determine how the News Tab should look. The company is also considering which publishers are credible—an inevitable hot-button topic— and how it will combat misinformation and bias.
Facebook said it’s working on paying some publishers to get quicker access to their content. The company has not said how much those publishers will be paid.
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