Is Mark Zuckerberg the messiah? Or a very naughty boy? Friday will reportedly see the launch of a new Facebook ‘News’ tab and the controversial site founder will take an even more influential position in people’s online lives.
On this ‘news’ tab that the under-fire social network will offer news from hundreds of different publications and news providers.
Facebook dipping its toes into the news pond will, no doubt, worry large sections of the public. Facebook does not have a good reputation as far as, well, the truth is concerned, and there are important questions to answer about how the company will select and filter the news stories it features.
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Facebook has made several recent attempts to clean up its image. Last year, for instance, it pledged £4.5 million to its UK ‘Community News Project’ in a bid to combat fake news. Better late than never?
The initiative saw the money go, via UK news organisations, into paying the salaries of around 80 journalists. This was intended to put the brakes on the decline of local news in the UK and provide more legitimate sources of news.
It was a good gesture, but as far as cleaning up Facebook’s image, this was like cleaning up a car crash with a feather duster. The same can be said for its current advertising campaign, which heralds its customisable privacy settings. This advert feels like locking the barn door after the horse has bolted (and taken your data with it).
In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had approached numerous news outlets, offering huge sums (up to $3m) to license content for its new, news feature.
This shows a significant willingness to invest financially in the new project, as well as a willingness to go toe to toe with Apple and Google, which already provide similar news portals to big audiences.
So Mark Zuckerberg walked into a few newsrooms, waving his wallet around. Will that be a wholesome shot in the arm for journalism? A much needed injection of cash and a helpful counter-attack against fake news? Or is it just another little celebration of Zuckerberg, and Facebook’s, self importance?
Speaking to the US House Committee on Financial Services earlier this week, Zuckerberg said Facebook was “launching a big initiative around news and journalism where we’re partnering with a lot of folks to build a new product that’s supporting high-quality journalism… I think there’s an opportunity within Facebook and our services to build a dedicated surface − a tab within the apps, for example – where people who really want to see high-quality, curated news, not just social content, but from high-quality publishers, could go and consume that content.” (Washington Post via Cnet)
So, as usual, Facebook’s founder is trying to sound as friendly as possible ‘folks’. It’s wearing pretty thin though, so shortly after he basically claimed to be the messiah, and on a week when he’s admitted that his new crypto currency is ultimately just intended to push up the price of ads, despite his claim that “This really is not about the money”. Okay, Mark.
Zuckerberg has been accused of associating with right-wing political figures, made comments suggesting that Facebook could have prevented the Iraq War, and now he’s answering questions from the US Government on his plans for Facebook cryptocurrency, Libra. Authorities are seemingly worried that it could challenge or weaken the US dollar.
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There are long-held fears that Mark Zuckerberg has inflated ideas about the global political role that he, and Facebook, can play. Is his new ‘news tab’ part of that? Or, is it simply meant as a helpful, informative addition to a very popular social network? Time will tell.