Facebook began rolling out a “Facebook News” section to a limited set of users on Friday. For the first time, the online giant will pay some news outlets to distribute their articles on its platform, marking a peace offering in what’s long been an abusive relationship with national media and local news alike.
But people are already throwing up their hands at which outlets made the list for a section that Facebook is promoting as “a quality news destination.”
The initial list of 200 news organizations includes large national outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC News and ABC News as well as major local dailies like the Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. HuffPost is also participating in the project.
Notably conservative outlets are also in the mix, even as Republicans repeatedly and falsely claim that Facebook is biased against them. (Far-right content tends to do exceedingly well on the platform.) Fox News, already one of the most prolific publishers on Facebook, appears set to play a significant role. On Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared the stage with Fox overseer and News Corp CEO Robert Thomson in announcing the new project.
And in a real head-scratcher, the first 200 outlets include Breitbart, despite that site’s history of laundering white nationalism and propagating racist conspiracies, anti-Semitism and xenophobic hatred. The site is so toxic that more than 4,000 companies have explicitly banned it from running their ads.
Breitbart’s inclusion casts a shadow on the entire enterprise, the nonprofit watchdog Media Matters argued on Friday. When esteemed outlets like The New York Times are presented as being equal in value to Breitbart, it only devalues legitimate news, said Media Matters president Angelo Carusone in a statement.
“Breitbart is not a news outlet. It is a right-wing political operation that spreads lies, foments extremism and pushes white supremacy,” Carusone said. “Even the Senate Press Gallery denied Breitbart permanent press credentials recognizing that it did not meet the standard of a legitimate news operation.”
Carusone added, “Breitbart’s inclusion in Facebook News is yet another illustration of Mark Zuckerberg catering to white nationalists and right-wing extremists.”
At Friday’s announcement event, Zuckerberg declined to address why Breitbart was included, but said that in order for the news section to be a trustworthy source, it must include a diverse range of views.
Asked how Facebook selected the initial list of news sources, a spokesperson told HuffPost that organizations had to be part of the platform’s “News Page Index,” which flags outlets for extra scrutiny.
The spokesperson said the company will monitor the outlets in Facebook News and remove those that repeatedly share misinformation, hate speech, clickbait and engagement bait, among other things. (As for how Facebook identifies misinformation, there are issues.)
The list of outlets in the new section is dynamic and will change over time, Facebook said, meaning that any publisher ― Breitbart included ― could lose eligibility for violating the rules.
It also remains to be seen which publishers will actually get paid and how much. Sources told The Wall Street Journal that only about a quarter of the 200 news organizations initially in the section will be compensated.