In New Facebook Effort, Humans Will Help Curate Your News Stories

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has long relied on algorithms to select news stories for its users to see.

Now the social network wants to rely on something else for the same task, too: humans.

Specifically, Facebook plans to hire a team of editors to work on a news initiative called News Tab, which is its latest venture into the world of publishing.

The Silicon Valley company said that journalists would help curate News Tab, a new section inside of the company’s mobile application that will surface the most recent and relevant stories for readers. Facebook said it planned to hire seasoned journalists from various outlets for the roles and would put up job postings on its employment board on Tuesday.

News Tab is part of the company’s effort to highlight real-time journalism and news. It will exist outside of the News Feed, Facebook’s never-ending stream of status updates and friend requests.

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

Facebook has been under pressure for spreading misinformation and disinformation to millions of its users. In 2016, Russian operatives manipulated Facebook and disseminated false news stories across its network to influence the outcome of the American presidential election. On Monday, Facebook also revealed that China was behind Facebook pages and groups that were sowing disinformation about the protests in Hong Kong.

Facebook is now working to restore its reputation as a place where people can find trusted sources of information. The company has scrambled to hire security researchers and third-party content reviewers to deal with the proliferation of bad content.

At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has overhauled the News Feed to focus less on news publishers and marketers, and more on personal interactions between users. As a result, Facebook is looking for other places on its network to show news.

Facebook has been pitching News Tab to publishers, hoping to strike content-sharing deals in which the company would license and display articles from partners inside its mobile app. Facebook may pay large sums to some — though not all — publishing partners for access to their content, people briefed on the company’s plans have said.

Most of the stories appearing in the News Tab will be algorithmically sorted and ranked, Ms. Brown said. But she said training those algorithms to personalize content to people takes an enormous amount of data and time, which is why Facebook is hiring journalists to curate and surface some of the day’s most important and pertinent news stories.

Other tech giants have also pushed into online news publishing with an element of human curation. Apple, for example, has hired traditional journalists to edit and curate Apple News, its subscription news app. LinkedIn has also hired journalists to work on in-house editorial products.

Facebook’s News Tab will almost certainly attract the ire of critics across the political spectrum, many of whom believe the social network unfairly favors some political parties and viewpoints over others.

In Congress and the White House, conservatives have repeatedly alleged — without evidence — that tech companies like Facebook and Google have suppressed speech from Republicans. Last month, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii who is running for president, sued Google, saying the company had infringed on her free speech when it briefly suspended her campaign’s advertising account after the first Democratic debate in June.

The genesis of the bias allegations followed a Gizmodo article in 2016 concerning Trending Topics, a discontinued Facebook product that surfaced some of the most popular news and trends to users, and was curated by a mix of algorithms and contract journalists. The article quoted anonymous sources who worked on Trending Topics, claiming that some workers routinely “suppressed” conservative stories from the list.

But a Times investigation found that the claims were largely unsubstantiated. Most of the problem with Trending Topics had to do with hiring young, inexperienced curators for the site.

Facebook has said it hopes to release a test of News Tab before the end of the year.

Source: NYT

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