Is this just another doomed attempt to cover up the flaws of Facebook’s algorithms?
Facebook will include a News Tab feature on its mobile application by the end of the year, which will allow hundreds of millions of people to view and read selected news stories sourced from various publications.
The moderated top stories of the day will be in addition to the stories that users see in their normal news feed which include status updates and the links posted by friends and groups that they follow.
For this purpose, the global social media giant is hiring around ten “veteran journalists”, most of them based in the United States.
People from outside the US can apply as well but they are asked if they need a sponsorship - the H-1B visa for temporary workers, according to the job postings on Facebook’s website.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is negotiating a deal with news outlets such as itself, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Bloomberg to buy their content for the news feature.
The plan to have human moderators eases concern about the algorithms, which can be unreliable in judging what’s an important story.
Facebook will still use powerful software to sift through the reports and pick the stories based on individual user preferences.
The tech company has faced criticism in the past for relying on algorithms, which inadvertently promoted fake news especially during the US presidential elections in 2016.
The stories that will appear in the news tab won’t be entire articles but headlines and descriptions with links taking readers back to a publisher’s website.
This move is important to avoid problems that can surface under the European Union (EU) Copyright Directive that protects traffic to news outlets, which have been losing digital ad revenue to Facebook, Google and other tech firms.
The New Tab will go through a testing period, which generally runs for 12 months and will be available in selected markets.
Facebook hasn’t specified which country’s users will be able to see the option but it's likely going to be introduced in the US first, and the United Kingdom, where it is hiring one editor for the moderating job.
It remains unclear what parameters will be used to decide the top news.
Interest among Facebook users varies depending on their location and circumstances: social media users in Pakistan and India are arguing over Kashmir, people in Istanbul want to know about urban flooding and the US President Donald Trump dominates American news coverage.
“Obviously, there can be a bias in the selection of stories if only a handful of publications are used to sift the top news,” says Omar Qureshi, a Pakistan-based journalist, who has a large Twitter following.
“This also puts them in a powerful position since a lot of people use Facebook for their news feed.”
Qureshi says Facebook can circumvent around this issue by hiring more journalists from other countries. “They’ll have biases but at least you would have diversity.”
Facebook used to have a similar feature known as trending topics. But it was discontinued after the company faced backlash for using freelance curators who were accused of suppressing conservative (Republican) views.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, told the New York Times that the journalist will help select the “right stories” as the Top News.