Thursday, July 19, 2018

"With its new lineup of funded news shows, Facebook sure does look like a media company" (FB)

A couple weeks ago, after years of vehemently denying it was a publisher the company found it expedient to claim in court that it was indeed a publisher. Guardian link after the jump, here's the headliner from Slate, July 16:

And it’s going to have a tougher time explaining why traditional media regulations shouldn’t apply to them.
Facebook has been trying awfully hard to repair the past two years of damage to its reputation. It’s been running apologetic ads on TV. It’s sent CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress. It’s rolled out new privacy settings. It’s employed new and improved content-moderation algorithms and filtering technologies, and hired more people to weed out the undesirable content that slips through the cracks. Advertisers are now under more rigorous scrutiny, and Facebook users must be informed about who paid for each political ad they see in their news feeds. 

In the midst of all of this, Facebook has decided to launch a new initiative that will air exclusive TV-news programming from a range of content providers, including household names like Fox News, CNN, Univision, and BuzzFeed. In the view of the social media behemoth, this represents not just a way to get users to spend more time with the platform, but also another way to combat what it has dubbed “false news.” But the term for the problematic media the platform helped spread isn’t best captured by false news, or the more ubiquitous fake news. Instead, it’s a category of content that Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project calls “junk news,” which its researchers say provides a more accurate description, since it also applies to all sorts of information that—while not completely fake—still contributes to problematically uninformed, misinformed, bigoted, and hyperpolarized views. It’s an important distinction in the diagnosis of Facebook’s problems—and helps explain why the company’s new, sanctioned news programming may end up causing more trouble than good. 

Facebook famously does everything it can to avoid being categorized as a media company. It doesn’t want to subject itself to the many regulations that apply to traditional media companies. Nor does it want to play the editorial gatekeeping role of evaluating which content is factual and relevant enough to be considered newsworthy—or, at least, it doesn’t want to be held responsible for doing so (part of the reason why the company did away with its Trending Topics). While Facebook has started demoting posts that users and fact-checkers flag as false, the outsourcing of this judgment task allows it to keep insisting it’s just a technology company providing a forum for the exchange of viewpoints and information. Zuckerberg himself has said that making content decisions on behalf of users makes him “fundamentally uncomfortable.”...MORE 
And from The Guardian July 3:

Is Facebook a publisher? In public it says no, but in court it says yes
In its defense against a former app startup, Facebook is contradicting its long-held claim to be simply a neutral platform


This is the second time in a year we've seen testimony in a British court wildly at variance with the public pitch.
Cognoscenti of American politics can probably guess the other case. 
Further, your affiant sayeth naught.