Facebook to prioritise ‘high quality news’ over less trusted sources

Social media network to use surveys to determine rankings on trustworthiness

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg outlined the shakeup in a post on Facebook. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg outlined the shakeup in a post on Facebook. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

 

Facebook will begin to prioritise “trustworthy” news outlets on its stream of social media posts as it works to combat “sensationalism” and “misinformation”, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Friday.

The company, which has more than two billion monthly users, will use surveys to determine rankings on how trustworthy news outlets are. It also said it would put an emphasis on local news sources.

The move is likely to send shockwaves through the media landscape in nearly every country, given the ubiquity of the world’s largest social network and how central it has become in some places to the distribution of news.

Mr Zuckerberg outlined the shakeup in a post on Facebook, saying that starting next week the News Feed, the company’s centrepiece product, would prioritize “high quality news” over less trusted sources. “There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarisation in the world today,” he wrote. “Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them.”

The change will affect not only links posted by news outlets but also news stories that individuals share, Facebook said. At the same time, Mr Zuckerberg said he expected the amount of news overall on Facebook to shrink by 20 per cent: to about 4 per cent of all content from 5 per cent currently.

Stormy relationship

Facebook has had a stormy relationship with news organisations, especially those with strong political leanings. In 2016, Republican politicians in the US expressed concern that the company was suppressing news stories of interest to conservative readers.

Facebook said that ranking by trustworthiness was not intended to directly impact any specific groups of publishers based on their size or ideological rankings. Mr Zuckerberg said he settled on the idea of surveying Facebook users after rejecting having the company itself rank news outlets trustworthiness. “We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective,” he wrote in his post.

Facebook said it did not plan to release the survey results because they would represent an incomplete picture of how a story’s position in a person’s feed was determined.

Many factors determine where a post appears in a Facebook user’s News Feed: from the subject of the post, to who wrote it, to who is commenting on it.

News organisations immediately began considering how they and competitors would fare in the ranking. “This sounds like extremely good news for news publishers that aren’t hated by one side or the other,” Tom Gara, opinion editor at BuzzFeed News, wrote on Twitter.

Last week, Mr Zuckerberg said the company would change the way it filtered posts and videos on News Feed to prioritise what friends and family shared.