Facebook testing new news feature it says will 'gather insight from journalists and publishers'

Facebook announced Friday it will begin testing Facebook News, which the tech giant said will offer users more control over the stories they see as well as the ability to discover a broader array of content.

“Journalism plays a critical role in our democracy. When news is deeply-reported and well-sourced it gives people information they can rely on. When it’s not, we lose an essential tool for making good decisions,” Facebook executives Campbell Brown and Mona Sarantakos wrote in a blog post to announce the initiative.


“People want and benefit from personalized experiences on Facebook, but we know there is reporting that transcends individual experience. We want to support both,” Brown and Sarantakos added.

Facebook News, which will be first tested to a group of users in the United States, will also highlight relevant national stories on a daily basis. Facebook said it will now “reward” original reporting by enlisting a newly formed curation team of independent journalists who will manage the Today’s Stories section of Facebook News.

“We changed our approach to gather insight from journalists and publishers before we started developing a product,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote.

Facebook said that several “key features” were identified after speaking with both users and publishers, such as stories being selected by a team of journalists, personalized content “based on the news you read, share and follow,” and controls that allow users to hide unwanted content. Facebook News will also allow users to link subscriptions to news sites directly to Facebook.

“Regarding personalization, publishers worry that machine learning has limits and they’re right. We have progress to make before we can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote. “We also aim to serve both people and news publishers, and not just the big national players. We want new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism, to flourish. So we will continue to expand the algorithmic selection of stories driving the majority of Facebook News.”

Facebook said it surveyed over 100,000 people on Facebook in the U.S. to determine what topics are of interest to users. The results indicated that content covering entertainment, health, business, and sports were underserved.

“Our criteria will evolve over time to make sure people are seeing sources that are valuable to them and that we’re including reporting across these topics,” the tech executives wrote. “Facebook News was built to bring people closer to the stories that affect their lives. We’ll continue to learn, listen and improve News as it rolls out more broadly. We hope this work aids in our effort to sustain great journalism and strengthen democracy.”

Facebook also recently announced a presidential spending tracker, which will allow users on the site to see what regions candidates are targeting and if an ad ran on Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger. Facebook said Monday it will also label state-controlled media as such, label fact-checks more clearly and invest $2 million in media literacy projects.