Publishers support algorithm changes, says Facebook’s ANZ head of news and partnerships

Australian publishers now understand and support the changes to Facebook’s algorithm, news partnership lead Andrew Hunter has said.

The global social media giant is still recovering from its decision to de-prioritise publishers from its algorithm in January, but Hunter said based on his discussions, news organisations understand why Facebook had to make the changes.

Hunter said the discussions have been going well

In January this year, co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced friends and family would take precedence in news feeds. Following those changes, the amount of news content has reduced from 5% to 4% of total news feed content, according to Facebook.

Australian publishers at the time said they would be closely watching the platform and make decisions accordingly.

Speaking at a Facebook breakfast which sought to provide an update on the company’s news partnerships and journalism program, Hunter said the focus was now ensuring the quality of news on the platform was improving.

“What I’d say about my discussions with publishers is that most of the people I have spoken to in these organisations understand why Facebook is prioritising friends and family in news feed because that is the core value proposition of Facebook and anyone who uses Facebook understands that,” Hunter said.

“All of the people that we have spoken to in these news organisations understand that and support that in principle. That is our direction. We have a large product team who is totally dedicated to news in news feeds and we are working with them to ensure that we can prosecute this program of raise quality of news.”

His comments echoed Guido Buelow, strategic partner manager for Central Europe, who said the “dust has settled” and things are “returning to normal”. Buelow is already in negotiations with media partners around subscriptions.

Guido Buelow, media partnerships lead in Europe said the dust is settling

“We started the Facebook Journalism Project in January 2017. We had quite a lot of meetings with publishers. It’s no secret that these changes at first were surprising for most publishers,” Buelow admitted.

“At first glance it might seem like we’ve reduced the amount of views in news feed from 5% to 4%. But on the other hand, having these discussions over time and seeing the other updates we are doing, the publishers we are talking to are saying ‘It’s ultimately good for us in the end’ because we want to elevate the good quality in newsfeed but get rid of the worst of the worst that we have seen in the past.”

The technology giant has a number of new initiatives which it hopes to launch in the Australian market, including subscriptions, third-party fact checking and a system which allows Facebook users to deem what they consider trustworthy and not. None of these products are available in the Australian market at present. Recently, Facebook began trialling breaking news labels locally.

However today, Alice Budisatrijo, Facebook’s media partnerships lead in Indonesia, explained Facebook would not delete news deemed ‘fake’ if it wasn’t in breach of community standards. Budisatrijo has been behind the launch of third-party fact checking in Indonesia. She said if a story is identified as false, distribution is simply reduced in the news feed.

“The kind of content that we immediately remove or delete from the newsfeed is content that violates our community standards. With false news we have to be very careful because a lot the kind of content that people think is fake news are sometimes articles that are opinion,” she explained.

But Budisatrijo added unless it is an article around “hate speech” or “violence” it won’t be pulled from the platform.

However Mia Garlick, director of policy for Australia and New Zealand, added there are other ways content might get removed.

“People don’t want Facebook to be in the position of being an arbitrator of truth. Some of the content that might have deliberate falsehoods on it, they are often posted on sites that have spammy links or last year we expanded our definition of inauthentic behaviour on the site.

“A fake account now isn’t just an account that behaves fake in the sense of sending lots of friend requests and not getting any responses, it can also be an account that is constantly posting the same content across a wide range of pages and comments. That is part of the measure we look at for inauthenticity.”

Hunter also noted in the cases such as that of Macedonians publishing false articles, Facebook is able to take away the ability from them to monetise their content.

“As far as Facebook is concerned, anything we can do to build the trust or to help trusted brands show their trust on the platform is incredibly important. One of the things we are doing is showing publisher logos more prominently in trending.

“We’re trialling showing journalist information with stories and so anything we can do to help trusted news brands connect with their users in a way that shows their trustworthiness is something we are trying to promote,” he added.


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