Facebook is moving forward with its controversial Ad Archive with a new system being announced today that will decide where to include individual publishers in the archive.
The archive is for ads that promote stories involving political races or issues of national importance and can include promoted stories by news publishers. Publishers and several of their associations opposed the archive, saying it would stigmatize their content to classify it as political ads. Facebook relented by roping off news publishers in a separate section of the archive, but stood by its decision to include news publishers. The archive was part of a response by Facebook to deal with backlash it incurred over the spread of misinformation that occurred on Facebook and other social platforms during the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook said it would start taking applications from news publishers that want to be included in the news section of the archive. Until now, Facebook has been using membership lists of news organizations to decide whether to classify an advertiser as a news publisher. But Facebook says those lists exclude a lot of publishers that are local or up-and-coming news outlets or pages of known news publishers that have dozens of individual Facebook pages.
To be classified as a news publisher, Facebook is requiring that news pages not repeatedly share misinformation. They have to meet other criteria such as primarily reporting on current events or information; cite sources in that reporting; include bylines and dates on articles; and primarily publish original, not user-generated or aggregated content. They also must publish primarily news content and clearly distinguish news from advertising.
The Trust Project, a consortium of news organizations from around the world that creates standards for journalism, was involved in creating the index. The index uses the Trust Project’s Trust Indicators — guidelines that help people determine what’s a source of trustworthy news — as its foundation, said Sally Lehrman, who leads the Trust Project.
“It’s a good start,” she said. “This is an important step by Facebook to begin to help people recognize how journalism is distinct. I’d like to see them surface these things to the public. People really do need some tools to help them feel confident in their own decisions.”
There are still a lot of questions left unanswered, such as whether Facebook will grandfather in publishers that were on the industry lists it was using; and how it will avoid a gap in service as it transitions to the new system. The burden will be on publishers to apply, although Facebook said it kept the application process down to a few minutes.
Another issue has to do with who influenced the process. Facebook said in addition to the Trust Project, “dozens of publishers” (it named Axios, The Economist and Bloomberg) were involved in the creation and testing of the process and that it briefed and got feedback from the Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium. Those aren’t among the groups that have most vocally protested the inclusion of news publishers in the archive, though.
Another worry out there, in the context of an already fraught relationship between Facebook and publishers, is that Facebook would use the list to demote publishers in its news feed. (Facebook said only that it expects to use this news publisher index, which won’t be public, to have a larger, more accurate group of news publishers to test news products with).
The indexing steps also still won’t likely comfort publishers and their associations that opposed the inclusion of publishers in the archive to begin with, especially when Twitter took the publisher-friendly step of exempting news publishers from a similar ad archive — a decision has led at least the Financial Times to divert some of its Facebook spending to Twitter.