How Facebook’s Upcoming News Tab Will Work

The social networking giant is paying some publishers in an effort to combat fake news.

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As part of its ongoing efforts to repair its tattered reputation, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has been hard at work developing a dedicated news tab that would feature trusted media outlets. That initiative is designed to mitigate the social networking platform’s role in the spread of disinformation across many charged topics by offering users a specific destination for real news.

“We talked about the role quality journalism plays in building informed communities and the principles Facebook should use for building a news tab to surface more high quality news, including the business model and ecosystem to support it,” CEO Mark Zuckberg wrote earlier this year, referring to an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Dopfner. At the time, His Zuckness hinted that the social networking behemoth was amenable to paying licensing fees to publisher partners that contribute content to a news tab.

Paying for real news

The Wall Street Journal reports that most publishers simply will not be getting paid. Roughly 25% of news organizations, some of which own and operate numerous outlets, would receive licensing fees in order to feature their articles, according to the report. Facebook was never intending to pay all publishers, but Zuckerberg clearly recognizes that the company needs to offer financial support to get the news tab up and running, particularly as Facebook has long been criticized for its role in accelerating the decline of local journalism.

The social networking company is still in talks with many publishers, offering anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars to as much as $3 million per year for three years. National publications that have broader reach would earn more than smaller local or regional outlets. Facebook reportedly has around 200 outlets on board, and the new dedicated tab could start rolling out as soon as late October. One sticking point in the negotiations is access: Facebook also wants to give users unfettered access to all content, while publishers only want to grant limited access.

“We’ve been working closely with news organizations to get this right by emphasizing original reporting and making it much easier to find the most relevant news on Facebook,” Facebook news chief Campbell Brown told the outlet.

Leaning on human editors (again)

Among tech giants, Facebook is perhaps the most ardent algorithm advocate. The company has long relied on algorithms that can power its services at scale, sometimes with disastrous effects in hindsight. In the news tab, Facebook is planning on using a combination of human editors and algorithmic curation. A “Top News” section that surfaces around 10 headlines will be managed entirely by human editors, while the personalized and targeted articles in subsections will be picked by robots, according to the Journal.

A few years back, Facebook found itself in hot water after human editors for its since-killed Trending section were reportedly biased in the topics they selected. The company fired that editorial team, which consisted entirely of contract workers. It’s unclear if the human editors for the new effort will be full-time employees or contractors. Facebook has also been criticized for relying too heavily on contractors for content moderation.

It’s worth noting that the news tab isn’t about growing the advertising business. There won’t be any ads and article links will redirect users to the outlet’s site (where the outlet may display ads). This is really all about trying to rebuild trust in the platform. “This isn’t a revenue play for us,” Zuckerberg had previously said.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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