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Facebook defends inclusion of 'alt-right platform' Breitbart News on new journalism feature

The company began rolling out its dedicated ‘news tab’ yesterday.

Mark Zuckerberg speaks about
Mark Zuckerberg speaks about "News Tab" at a launch event in New York yesterday
Image: Mark Lennihan/PA Images

FACEBOOK CHIEF EXECUTIVE Mark Zuckerberg has defended the inclusion of Breitbart News on a new feature designed by the social network to promote journalism and shed its reputation as a platform for misinformation.

The company began rolling out its dedicated ‘news tab’ yesterday, with users able to see articles from around 200 news organisations in a new separate feed on the social network. The feature is still being tested, and is only available to some US users for now.

The mix of stories users see will be determined by algorithmic “personalisation” based on a user’s preferences and data, with journalists choosing some of the stories.

The company said users would have “more control over the stories they see, and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests, directly within the Facebook app”.

The move represents Facebook’s effort to reboot its relationship with news organisations, many of which have been critical of the platform for failing to curb the spread of misinformation and for taking too much online ad revenue.

The social network has partnered with organisations including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, CBS News, BuzzFeed, Fox News, the Boston Globe, Bloomberg and Vanity Fair.

It is also expected to pay some of the organisations – reportedly millions of dollars in some cases – but has yet to disclose full details.

Zuckerberg said he sees the effort as important, even if it is used by only a small percentage of Facebook users. And he said the company is in discussions to bring the feature to other countries.

“We want to do something like this across the world as well,” he said.

However, he defended the inclusion of partners who have been criticised as politically partisan.

Asked about the inclusion of Breitbart News, which has promoted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views and achieved influence under its executive chairman Steve Bannon, Zuckerberg said the news tab “needs to have a diversity of views”.

Bannon told a eporter in 2016 that the website was “a platform for the alt-right”.

Facebook said it would begin an initial test rollout which would “showcase local original reporting” from publications in major cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington, Miami, Atlanta and Boston.

The launch follows a week in which Zuckerberg faced tough questions from US lawmakers as he attempted to build support for the company’s online currency Libra. 

During a hearing on Thursday, Zuckerberg struggled to answer questions about Facebook’s past practices and plans for fact-checking ahead of the US presidential election in 2020.

Several lawmakers also took the occasion to question the trustworthiness of the world’s largest social network with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez peppering Zuckerberg with questions about what Facebook allows on the platform.

- © AFP 2019 with reporting from Stephen McDermott.

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