Facebook introduces feature to flag old news articles in midst of advertiser boycott

While a growing group of brands – including Coca-Cola, Diaego, and Unilever – pull advertising dollars from the platform to protest misinformation and hate speech, Facebook has launched a feature that flags old news articles.

When users go to share a news article that is more than 90-days-old, they will now be met with a notification screen alerting them of that fact. Facebook said the global feature will “ensure people have the context they need to make informed decisions about what to share on Facebook”.

“News publishers in particular have expressed concerns about older stories being shared on social media as current news, which can misconstrue the state of current events,” John Hegeman, vice president of feed and stories, wrote in a blog post announcing the decision.

An example of the notification screen

“Some news publishers have already taken steps to address this on their own websites by prominently labeling older articles to prevent outdated news from being used in misleading ways.”

Facebook added that, in the following months, it will test other uses of similar notification screens. With regards to sharing links that mention COVID-19, the platform is looking into a notification screen that shows information on the source of the link and directs users to the ‘COVID-19 Information Center’.

In 2018, Facebook added the ‘context button’, which shows the source of news articles in the platform’s newsfeed. The new notification feature may be a step towards combating what’s become known as ‘fake news’, but the advertising boycott protesting Facebook’s perceived inaction on stopping misinformation and hate speech shows no signs of slowing down.

On Friday, the social media company’s share price fell 8.3% after Unilever joined the list of boycotters, which also includes Honda America, Birchbox, Levi Strauss & Company, Lululemon, The North Face, Patagonia, REI, Starbucks, and Verizon.

Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, said it won’t run ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in the US until at least the end of the year because of a “polarized election period”. Coca-Cola has pledged to stop advertising on the site for at least 30 days, and use that time to reassess advertising policies, communicating that “we expect greater accountability, action and transparency from them [social media partners]”. Alcohol brand Diageo will pause all social media advertising from 1 July, and “will continue to discuss with media partners how they deal with unacceptable content”.

Responding to advertisers’ actions, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced in a post that Facebook will link to its ‘Voting Information Center’ in posts that discuss voting, including those made by politicians, in the lead up to the US presidential election in November. It will also combat voter suppression by removing false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours prior to election day, using systems developed throughout COVID-19 to identify inaccurate and dangerous information.

“We know this will be challenging in practice as facts on the ground may be uncertain and we don’t want to remove accurate information about challenges people are experiencing, but we’re building our operation to be able to respond quickly,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook will also ban posts falsely claiming that immigration papers will be checked at polling places (a scare tactic to discourage people from voting) and remove threats of coordinated voting interference, “like someone saying ‘My friends and I will be doing our own monitoring of the polls to make sure only the right people vote’, which can be used to intimidate voters”.

“We already restrict certain types of content in ads that we allow in regular posts, but we want to do more to prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory language that has been used to sow discord,” Zuckerberg added.

“So today we’re prohibiting a wider category of hateful content in ads. Specifically, we’re expanding our ads policy to prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.

“We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.”

While the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ campaign leading to brands’ pulling ad spend from the platform has been gaining momentum in the US in response to George Floyd’s death, organisers – Free Press, Common Sense, and American civil rights groups Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League – have said they plan to take the movement global. As a consequence of the boycott, Zuckerberg’s net worth has fallen USD$7.2bn to USD$82.3bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In the post announcing the policy changes, Zuckerberg said his company will flag content as ‘newsworthy’ if it is left up even if it violates Facebook’s policies, because “the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm”. He ended with a personal pledge to continuing to amend policies to ensure Facebook is a “force for good”.

Mark Zuckerberg

“I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that no matter where it comes from,” Zuckerberg said.

“We’re continuing to review our policies, and we’ll keep working with outside experts and civil rights organizations to adjust our approach as new risks emerge. I’m optimistic that we can make progress on public health and racial justice while maintaining our democratic traditions around free expression and voting. I’m committed to making sure Facebook is a force for good on this journey.”

Last week, the local watchdog urged digital platforms to take part in a voluntary code of practice on misinformation and news quality, to be developed by the platforms and ready by December this year. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) also said digital platforms should not be arbiters of truth, but said they should codify and commit to permanent actions “that are systematic, transparent, certain and accountable for their users”.

Fellow digital platform Google also announced it would pay some publishers under a licensing deal struck in a few markets, including Australia. The Saturday Paper’s publisher Schwartz Media and Crikey’s publisher Private Media have both entered into agreements with the search engine giant.

Google previously criticised the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) mandatory payment scheme, likening the search engine to a ‘newsagent’ providing free traffic to publishers. The mandatory code, if introduced, would see Google and Facebook forced to pay for news, following the ACCC’s 18-month Digital Platforms Inquiry. A further five year inquiry into the platforms is underway.


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