Media agencies welcome Facebook update in fight against fake news

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 18 January 2018

Media agency execs are welcoming the Facebook News Feed update, recognising it's the platform taking its first serious step in the fight against fake news.

The News Feed update is attempting to increase “meaningful interactions” on its site by drawing attention to content from family and friends while de-emphasising content from brands and publishers.

The changes were made as the company finds itself embroiled in a larger debate over its role in spreading fake news and misinformation aimed at influencing elections in the United States and other nations.

The updated News Feed was introduced in part to solve the issue of fake news, but a report in The New York Times has found that the recent tweak might have made things worse.

One media exec, who wished to remain anonymous, tells AdNews the News Feed update is a clear attempt to tackle fake news, but is being disguised as something else.

"If Facebook came out and said that it was making this change to get rid of fake news, then they would be admitting they have a fake news problem, which isn't something they want to do," he says.

While some publishers are concerned about how their businesses will be impacted now the change is in place, media agencies, overall, think the move is a positive one.

Paul Brooks heroPaul Brooks

Carat CEO Paul Brooks welcomes the change, adding that fake news has undermined trust in the Australian media industry and it's time that's rectified.

"Changes that result in fake news becoming less prevalent should result in a better experience for users," he says.

"These desired improvements are shared by the brands that pay to be part of the platform experience, so this has the potential to be a win-win for both advertisers and society."

Havas Media Group CEO Mike Wilson says less potential for fake news dissemination is a good thing for the industry.

“From a less cynical viewpoint Facebook is purportedly doing something for their consumers, and that will increase engagement and only make the ad platform more interesting for half the planet," he says.

"A better customer experience means more valuable customers and, at the end of the day, that’s better for clients and agencies too."

Mike Wilson HavasMike Wilson

Is it really fixing fake news?

Media execs may see the News Feed update as a move to solve fake news, but the New York Times has found that when posts favour friends and families over professional news sites, the unintended consequence is that it's the sensationalist and often fake stories that are magnified.

Facebook trialled a similar News Feed updated in six countries that also deprioritised content from news companies last year. 

Called Explore Feed, the update siphoned publisher content into a separate feed.

Filip Struharik, the social media editor of Denník N, a Slovakian subscription news site noted a steady rise in engagement on sites that publish fake or sensationalist news. He catalogued the effects of Facebook Explore through a monthly tally.

“People usually don’t share boring news with boring facts,” Struharik said, adding that Dennik N saw a 30% drop in Facebook engagement after the changes.

Will Facebook's best efforts actually see fake news thrive? Email me on lindsaybennett@yaffa.com.au

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