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Facebook Journalism Project Battles 'Fake News' Problem

The Facebook Journalism Project debuted to help save the media and tackle the social network's growing misinformation problem.

The company said this project's focus lies with helping media outlets find sustainable business models; teaching journalists how to use its technologies; and making sure its users are better informed than ever. The company has made similar claims in the past--that's what Instant Articles, Graph Search, and its News Feed were all designed to do--but this new project could prove more critical than its predecessors because it follows months of controversy.

Facebook was criticized throughout the 2016 presidential election for allowing "fake news" to spread on its platform. Many people get most of their news from the social network, yet the service has struggled to separate misleading blog posts or satirical essays from quality journalism. A link is a link is a link; Facebook users post, discover, read, share, comment on, and react to web pages they find on the network in the same way, regardless of its source.

The Facebook Journalism Project wants to change that by teaching people news literacy. The company explained:

We will work with third-party organizations on how to better understand and to promote news literacy both on and off our platform to help people in our community have the information they need to make decisions about which sources to trust. [...] In the short-term, we are working with the News Literacy Project to produce a series of public service ads (PSAs) to help inform people on Facebook about this important issue. Our longer-term goal is to support news organizations with projects and ideas aimed at improving news literacy, including financial grants where needed.

That's how Facebook wants to use its money to address its fake news problem. It's also going to use its technology; the company recently made it easier for its users to report hoaxes, blocked scammers from its advertising platform, and partnered up with "third-party fact checking organizations that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles" to identify misinformation on its network and take the appropriate action.

This matters to Facebook because it needs the media to give its users something to do besides post memes, look at baby pictures, and decline friend requests from people they barely knew in high school. It matters to the media because Facebook is currently one of the best ways for journalism to find an audience while also bringing in the revenues needed to fund that reporting. And it matters to Facebook users, because they should have access to news.

The question is whether or not it will work. Facebook doesn't have the best track record when it comes to supporting the media--much of the industry has to scramble to keep up with Facebook's whims--or with policing its service. The company has pulled videos of public interest from its platform, only to restore them later; censored images for depicting the female body; and flip-flopped on whether or not it's okay to share newsworthy but violent content.

Partnering with outside groups could be what Facebook needed to improve. "This problem is much bigger than any one platform, and it’s important for all of us to work together to minimize its reach," the company said. "This is just the beginning of our effort on that front — we have much more to do." Every announcement related to the Facebook Journalism Project and its progress will be collected into a single page on Facebook's media website.