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By Deepa Seetharaman
Facebook Inc. said it would advocate for what it determines is good journalism and forge closer ties with news organizations, a sign of it taking a more active role in managing the content on its site.
The social network outlined a new initiative Wednesday that includes investing in research and projects that promote "news literacy," building on its efforts in recent months to stamp out misinformation on the main news feed. Facebook also promised to include publishers earlier in its product-development process and help them generate revenue from videos posted on Facebook.
Some of the media organizations Facebook will work with include The Washington Post, Fox News and BuzzFeed, the companies said.
The goal of the "Facebook Journalism Project" is to give users "information that you can trust," said Fidji Simo, director of product for Facebook. "We care about it from the standpoint that people want to be informed."
Facebook has long been reluctant to portray itself as a media company, instead calling itself a neutral-technology platform. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said he is wary of Facebook becoming "arbiters of truth." Ms. Simo echoed that sentiment, saying Facebook's goal isn't to tell people what they should and shouldn't read.
Still, in the past couple of months, Mr. Zuckerberg has acknowledged that Facebook shoulders some responsibility for how its technology is used by its 1.8 billion monthly users. About 44% of Americans get at least some of their news from Facebook, according to a survey by Pew Research conducted last year.
The changes come in the wake of criticism that Facebook's news feed, by design, puts legitimate and fake news on equal footing, hurting public discourse during the U.S. presidential campaign. In December, Facebook said it would aim to curb fake news through partnerships with fact-checking organizations and tweaks to its algorithm.
Facebook is now building on that work with the journalism initiative. One aspect of the program is helping users make what Facebook calls "smart choices" about the news they read both on and off the platform.
The company will provide funding for and work with nonprofit News Literacy Project to produce a public service ad campaign about the importance of "news literacy" and assess research areas that Facebook can finance or provide data for, Ms. Simo said. Longer-term, Facebook plans to provide financial grants to news organizations pursuing projects that promote this idea.
"This is a commitment to...looking at ways to inform people better, but we don't have the specifics," Ms. Simo said.
Media companies have a complicated relationship with Facebook. The social-media giant is home to the largest pool of readers in the world, giving publishers access to billions of potential new readers. But its dominance in digital ads is at odds with publishers, who are seeing their own revenues decline as advertisers flock to Facebook.
On Wednesday, Facebook said it would allow publishers to exert influence on Facebook products when they are still being conceived by the development teams in hopes of building content that publishers and users will adopt.
This month, for example, engineers for Facebook and the Germany's leading daily tabloid, Bild, will test a way to offer free trial subscriptions to readers from within Instant Articles, fast-loading articles on Facebook's mobile app. Another area Facebook is studying is how to make local news easier to find on Facebook, and Ms. Simo said the company is looking for collaborators.
Facebook has committed to better understanding "how best to draw attention to journalism, instead of fake news," said Jennifer Preston, vice president for journalism at the Knight Foundation, a journalism nonprofit that is working with Facebook to promote local news.
Still, Facebook allying itself with some established media companies and taking a stand for news literacy could stoke concerns, often voiced by conservatives, about liberal bias among Facebook employees and the news promoted by the site.
Ms. Simo said the company is looking for ways to help publishers make money from the content they post on Facebook, especially video. Among other things, Facebook is going to introduce ad breaks within regular videos and give publishers a cut of the proceeds, she added.
Some of that work will fall to Campbell Brown, the former CNN and NBC anchor Facebook hired last week to run news partnerships. She will help Facebook executives, including Ms. Simo, forge deeper relationships with major publishers.
Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 12, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)
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