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Oct. 28, 2019, 12:38 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.cnbc.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   October 28, 2019

It’s been only three days since Facebook News rolled out as a test to about 200,000 people in the U.S., meaning that only a tiny handful of Facebook users have seen it. (I had a brief moment of excitement this morning when I thought I was one of them, but it turns out my app actually just updated with Today In, Facebook’s less-new local news tab, which has its own problems.) Not having seen or used the new feature yet, however, is no reason for people not to hate it, and the complaints and concerns had time to marinate over the weekend.

The complaint topping the list is that Breitbart will be one of Facebook News’ “high-quality” news sources. Facebook has refused to provide a full list of the 200 news outlets it’s including in the launch of Facebook News (more on that below), but Bloomberg reported Friday that the alt-right site is one of them. On Friday, reporters began asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg why Breitbart was included in what he had described as “a space dedicated to high-quality and curated news.” From The Verge:

[When] New York Times reporter Marc Tracy asked how including Breitbart served that cause, Zuckerberg emphasized its politics, not its reporting. “Part of having this be a trusted source is that it needs to have a diversity of views in there, so I think you want to have content that represents different perspectives,” he said. Zuckerberg reiterated that these perspectives should comply with Facebook’s standards, and he was cagey about Breitbart’s presence, saying that “having someone be possible or eligible to show up” doesn’t guarantee frequent placement. “But I certainly think you want to include a breadth of content in there,” he said.

In a New York Times op-ed on Friday, Zuckerberg wrote, “We’re setting strict standards for publishers to be eligible to appear in Facebook News. If a publisher posts misinformation, it will no longer appear in the product.” (In the past, Breitbart has published published many stories that were proven false, run trolly headlines such as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?”, and nurtured ties to white nationalism.) Times Opinion writer Charlie Warzel wrote the same day:

The real threat to Facebook isn’t bad P.R., it’s alienating its user base.

Through this lens, it makes perfect sense that Facebook should want to publicly court conservative audiences that seethe at what they perceive as Facebook’s liberal bias. And while the outcomes of Facebook’s decisions have serious political consequences, Mr. Zuckerberg and his fellow decision makers at the company view their decision to choose both publishers and off-the-record dining partners in terms of user acquisition strategy. According to Bloomberg, publications for Facebook News were chosen after surveying users and studying news consumption habits on the platform. Breitbart’s inclusion suggests that it checked enough of Facebook’s boxes, despite its toxicity. The same goes for dinner with [Fox News’ Tucker] Carlson, who launders white nationalist talking points and speaks to a large audience on cable TV every weeknight. The pattern is clear: If an entity or individual achieves a certain level of scale and influence, then the company will engage earnestly.

It’s telling that Facebook would look to Mr. Carlson or Breitbart and interpret a large audience and influence as a stand-in for authority and credibility. What else should we really expect from a company that refuses to meaningfully distinguish those who share hyperpartisan vitriol from those joyfully sharing baby pictures? When scale is the prism through which you view the world, that world becomes flat. When everyone becomes a number, everyone starts to look the same.

Instagram’s Adam Mosseri, the former VP of Facebook’s News Feed, replied to Warzel’s story in a highly ratioed series of tweets.

A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that “Breitbart is not among the publishers the company will pay to host content in the Facebook News Tab. The spokesperson said Breitbart is ‘eligible to appear in the tab because their current content on Facebook meets the guidelines.'”

Where is the list, by the way? Facebook has refused to release a full list of the 200 publishers it’s including in the News tab at launch.

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