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Publishers infuriated by Facebook calling 'news' ads

Mark Zuckerberg

There seems to be no end to the controversies Facebook has created for itself lately.

It’s been caught setting users’ settings to public, giving data to a Chinese firm flagged by the government, giving electronic device makers deep access to users’ information, age discrimination and collusion with other big web companies to suppress conservative news, commentary and information.

That censorship has been called a war on the First Amendment by WND CEO Joseph Farah.

Now, the Columbia Journalism Review, in an email, is warning of Facebook decision to treat “certain promoted news stories as though they are political ads.”

Mathew Ingram reported the furor reached a peak recently when Facebook made clear that ads for news stories with political themes would be filed in its database, which “is designed to be a central location where anyone can see who pays for individual ads.”

CJR reported news outlets were enraged because the ads were “in most cases just regular posts linking to news stories, which publishers pay to promote or boost so that they appear in the feeds of users.”

The News Media Alliance immediately protested, complaining it would be a “fundamental mischaracterization of journalism.”

NMA spokesman David Chavern wrote that the “treatment of quality news as political, even in the context of marketing, is deeply problematic.”

“You are forcing publishers to make a choice between labeling that is fundamentally counter to who we are and what we do, or to walk back our presence on a dominant platform for news consumption and discovery. This will have the effect of elevating less credible news sources on Facebook, the exact opposite of your stated intent.”

Facebook initially stated “all ads on politics and issues will be in a searchable archive including news content” but then changed its position to saying the company “recognizes that news stories about politics are different and we are working with publishers to develop the right approach.”

Digiday later reported a team of seven journalism associations sent a letter to Facebook stating it was of “highest importance” that Facebook keeps journalism separate from issue-based advocacy.

The move comes as President Trump regularly accuses establishment media of producing “fake news.” It’s estimated that as much as 90 percent of news coverage about the president is negative.

The seven groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, insisted that it would be a mistake to not look “at the credibility and professionalism of the source” of the content.

They suggested guidelines under which they would be exempted from Facebook’s policy.

“It is our job – in fact, our expertise – to make critical judgments across a complicated array of fats and ideas, which is what distinguishes our professional media from political advertising and other information provided by political or advocacy groups,” they said in the letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Specifically, they want “a clear exemption for publishers of professional journalism.”

They said that “placing news ads in an archive designed to capture political advertising implies that Facebook considers there is a political agenda behind journalism.”

They described their work product as “real reporting” as opposed to “propaganda.”

CJR reported Facebook “is under intense pressure to tighten up its election policy after Russian actors used the platform to run divisive ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

Facebook has been in trouble on an international scale.

A key player behind the British Brexit movement recently charged that Facebook is “doctoring” the news to conform to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s “personal political views.”

British politician Nigel Farage, in a commentary quoted extensively by Breitbart, spoke out as Zuckerberg was grilled by the European Parliament about privacy, bias on the web and other issues.

Farage said the “value of Facebook as a political communications tool is hard to overestimate.”

“Without it, Brexit almost certainly would not have happened and Donald Trump would not be U.S. president,” he wrote, noting he “reminded Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of this.”

“It’s fair to say that this high priest of the liberal elite did not look best pleased at my dwelling on the key role his company has played in helping to create what he would regard as these totally unacceptable democratic outcomes,” Farage said.

He said Zuckerberg’s “personal political views, and no doubt those of his close colleagues in Silicon Valley, may help to explain why in January this year Facebook announced its algorithms were going to change.”

Farage noted the tech giant said it was going to “de-prioritise” news publishers and their posts in Facebook users’ news feeds.

“In other words, it was going to doctor the kind of news to which Facebook’s 1 billion users were exposed,” he said.

“And this is exactly what it has done.”

Farage said the “impact of this decision has been swift and brutal.”

“According to analysis of Facebook engagement data using various tech programmes including BuzzSumo, conservative publishers like Breitbart and Fox News (for whom I work as a contributor) have seen a significant decrease in the numbers visiting their websites and engaging with their messages via Facebook. It is estimated that traffic to certain right-of-centre sites and commentators driven by Facebook has fallen by 25 per cent or more,” he wrote.

Consequently, opinions and reports by conservative news sites are being censored by Facebook, he said.

Breitbart reported: “You do not need to be Alan Turing to understand what Facebook’s technical tinkering has done. Whether or not you like these news sources and their opinions, they are effectively being censored – presumably because of their support for Trump or Brexit.”

Wired magazine reported it appeared Farage was correct in his understanding that Facebook’s actions knowingly have undermined conservatives.

“In the last six months, daily engagement on right-wing pages has dropped significantly, falling by 600,000, or 4.8 million a week. Overall, in the last year, engagement on these pages has fallen by 29 percent, a little more than Farage claimed,” the report said.