Last week, Facebook News launched in order to compete with Google News and offer a “high quality” service, as CEO Zuckerberg promised.
As alt-right media Breitbart features on Facebook News, this new initiative sparked outrage among the public and questioned the social media strategy.
While Breitbart is considered to be a misleading website that publishes unverified stories, many politicians have firmly condemned Zuckerberg’s choice to include alt-right media on the new platform, especially a few months prior the US presidential elections.
The right of “free speech”
On April 1st, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned the launch of a news platform to enhance “free speech” by the end of 2019. While public opinion hoped this would be a new chapter in Zuckerberg’s effort to more transparency, Facebook News tab is already facing a controversy.
Its launch on October 25th sparked outrage when the New York Times spotted that the alt-right media Breitbart was one of the partners of the platform, alongside the most mainstream US media such as the Washington Post. “If Breitbart is “high quality” news, what’s low?”, wondered CNN in a column last week.
“We believe in free expression and freedom of speech”, said Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg last week on Bloomberg TV. In the same interview, Sandberg confirmed a 9% year-over-year growth for the social media in the US.
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Facebook and the weight of political ads
Breitbart News, formerly managed by White House chief strategist advisor Steve Bannon, has been severely criticized for influencing Americans during the 2016 elections.
"Facebook's choice is worse than embarrassing; it's inexplicable," Charlie Sykes, a conservative commentator and editor-in-chief of The Bulwark, told CNN Business. "Breitbart is a poster child for disinformation and hackery."
— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) October 31, 2019
Bannon has since stepped out but keeps on lobbying for alt-right ideologies in Europe – including showing his full support to French Le Pen’s party, Luigi di Maio’s Five Star and other extremists parties on the Old Continent.
Not only the media published unverified stories about Democratic candidates, but it also encouraged readers to vote for Donald Trump.
An umpteenth controversy
Academics are worried this partnership could bias users’ newsfeed as such as Cambridge Analytica did. “Including Breitbart on [Zuckerberg’s] ‘news tab’ disgraces the name of news.”, shared Columbia Journalism School Ph.D. chair Todd Gitlin to CNN.
Breitbart’s historical role smuggling racist rhetoric and talking points into mainstream political discourse led many to say the site didn’t belong in a group of “Trusted Partners” tasked with serving reliable information. https://t.co/wLWs3uSuPX
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) October 26, 2019
This only adds to numerous scandals Facebook has faced this year, which is causing investors to question Zuckerberg’s managing strategy.