Facebook and the media — frenemies?
After accusations of funneling media advertising resources worldwide and spreading misinformation, Facebook has announced many policy changes. In 2017, it launched The Facebook Journalism Project and has since been creating close ties with the media industry through different programs and actions. GEN spoke to Jesper Doub, Director of News Partnerships EMEA (European Middle-East Africa) at Facebook about what we can expect from Facebook’s media strategy and what actions the social network is taking to foster sustainability and fight against disinformation.
GEN: As a former Spiegel top executive, how does your professional experience in the media sector help you in your actual position? Do you consider working for Facebook as a rupture or a continuity in your career?
Jesper Doub: I know that I’ve been an outspoken critic of Facebook in the past. But in joining the company, I saw a huge opportunity to help build a stronger bridge between Facebook and the news industry. We have a responsibility to help publishers with their core business priorities, whether that’s finding new ways to monetise, or deepening engagement with their readers on our platform. We also want to share more of our knowledge and be more transparent about how we work and what we’re doing.
Media companies have come to rely on Facebook’s massive audience. But Facebook has also undergone criticism for taking over the advertising resources and spreading disinformation. In this difficult context, how would you present the Facebook Journalism Project?
First, I’d point out that we’ve made significant progress in the past 12 months when it comes to improving privacy, tackling misinformation, reducing hate speech and setting new standards for transparency in advertising. On privacy, we have redesigned our privacy settings, built a new Access Your Information tool, created a centralized Privacy Shortcut, and updated our Terms and Data Policy. On tackling hate, between July — September last year we removed 2.9m pieces of hate speech. On misinformation, we now have over 50 independent fact-checking partners in 41 languages and are investing in ways to scale these efforts globally. On advertising, in March we launched our ads transparency tools and political ads library in the EU. We know that we’ve made mistakes, but are certainly not resting on our laurels.
As for our relationship with publishers, I acknowledge that we haven’t been the easiest partner to work with over the last few years in Europe. We’re committed to changing that. My goal is to build and scale our news partnerships team here in EMEA, so that we can better support journalists and publishers.
How much money is invested in the Facebook Journalism Project globally and in Europe? How many media companies is Facebook collaborating with as part of this project?
In January, we announced that we’ll be investing $300 million in news programs, partnerships and content over the next three years, globally. This includes expanding our Accelerator pilot, which launched in the United States in 2018 to help local newsrooms with subscription and membership models. This year, we’ll commit over $20 million to continue the local Accelerator in the United States and to expand the model globally, including in Europe. In April we launched a €2 million, three-month Local News Subscriptions Accelerator in Germany together with 13 publishers. Last November we also announced a $6 million fund for community journalism in the UK. Together with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) and several local publishers, the fund will help to train 82 community journalists and embed them in the heart of local British newsrooms. We’ll be continuing to invest, pilot and scale projects as we find new and better ways to support journalists and publishers around the world.
The Facebook Journalism Project arrives in Europe five years after the Google News Initiative. What are the main differences and similarities between the two projects?
I can’t speak to Google’s initiative, but The Facebook Journalism Project is designed to build community through news, provide training for newsrooms and advocate quality journalism. So far, we’ve launched local news Accelerators in the US, Canada and Germany. Ahead of the European Parliament elections in May, we held 10 training events in newsrooms around the region covering topics like how to tell digital stories on our platforms, and how to spot false news and maintain integrity in digital reporting. We also offer free online training courses for journalists on a range of topics including immersive storytelling and engaging your audience through Facebook Groups. We’ve also partnered with many journalists and newsrooms through our work with independent fact-checkers to curb the spread of false news on our platform. In Europe we work with 21 fact-checkers who review and rate content in 14 languages, including the likes of AFP and DPA.
In 2018, the Facebook Journalism Project pledged 4.5 million GBP to train local journalists from the UK. Could you tell us more about this project and its outcomes? Why this focus on local news?
Last year, we worked to better understand what kind of news people want to see on Facebook. We’ve also asked our partners in the news industry how we can better work with them to make a real impact.
We heard that people want more local news, and local newsrooms are looking for more support. There are two key areas where we hope to help: supporting local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs in the immediate future; and helping local news organizations build sustainable business models, through both our product and partnership work. Over time, we think this work can have the added benefit of fostering civic engagement, which research suggests is directly correlated with people’s reading of local news.
The Community News Project in the UK has seen a lot of success so far. Our partners have received 4,200 applications for 82 positions. What’s especially pleasing to see is the range of candidates coming through the programme — 60 percent are from diverse backgrounds. Excitingly, the first reporters have started working and have already started securing front pages.
Does the Facebook Journalism Project have a role in helping traditional media increase their revenues to continue practicing quality journalism? If so, how do you achieve it?
Let’s be clear — there’s no silver bullet for addressing the radical changes happening in the media industry right now. Every publisher and newsroom faces different, complex business challenges. We want to help partners monetize their journalism from a whole host of opportunities, depending on what works for your business — be that ad breaks, Groups, subscriptions, events or branded content.
The initiatives we’ve introduced through the Facebook Journalism Project are just some of the ways we’re trying to help newsrooms to find new solutions. For example, the grant funding we provide through the local Accelerators will help publishers to experiment with new ways of generating revenue through digital subscribers. But it’s also important to bear in mind that a subscriptions model won’t work for everyone. Our goal is to help to help publishers find sustainable business models that work for them, connect publishers to experts and share as much knowledge as we can as they embrace digital change.
Facebook is offering tools for media to achieve better results: CrowdTangle, Facebook Live…It also provides training on Whatsapp and Instagram. Some would consider these as Facebook’s “Trojan horse” in the media. What would be your response? How can these tools enhance journalism?
Journalism and publishing are going through enormous changes. People don’t trust news like they used to. Technology has dramatically changed the way people consume and discover news. News is now being measured as it’s published which raises a lot of questions for journalists like: does it change the way you tell your story? How do you balance writing the story you want to write versus writing the story people want to read? All this means that the old models don’t work — I saw this myself during my time at Spiegel. In newsrooms, knowledge of technology and a basic understanding of data is more important than ever before.
We know this is really hard, and we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we want to help journalists and newsrooms navigate this new digital landscape. We offer data through CrowdTangle and Facebook analytics, and training on tools like Live and WhatsApp. We host Instagram ‘Stories Schools’ to help journalists better use this new format for newsgathering and storytelling. Here at GEN, we’re offering workshops on a whole host of subjects, from visual journalism and video best practices, to covering elections with CrowdTangle, to enhancing your digital subscription strategy with Facebook.
What has been done in the last six months to address disinformation, hate speech and live streaming of crime scenes or terrorist attacks? What are the main priorities for Facebook moving forward?
We know that we have more to do, but we’re also proud of the progress we’ve made. When it comes to tackling disinformation, we remove fake accounts and anything that violates our Community Standards. Together with our fact-checkers we reduce the spread of false news, and know that once a story has been fact-checked we’re able to reduce views in News Feed by an average of 80%. We’re also focused on providing more context to people reading stories on Facebook — we’ve rolled out the ‘context button’ globally which offers more information on the publisher posting that story.
Let me be clear — there is absolutely no place for hate speech this on Facebook. When we discover hate speech, we remove it as fast as possible. The broader team responsible for enforcing these policies is made up of around 30,000 people, half of which are content reviewers based around the globe, who speak almost every language in the world, and who collectively work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re also investing heavily in technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, to help us proactively identify hate speech before people see it and report it to us — the amount of hate speech we detect proactively has more than doubled from 24% to 52%.
Just last month, following the horrific terrorist attacks in New Zealand, we looked at how to limit our services from being used to cause harm or spread hate. As a result, people who have broken certain rules on Facebook — including our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy — will be restricted from using Facebook Live. Tackling these threats also requires technical innovation to stay ahead of the type of adversarial media manipulation we saw after Christchurch, when some people modified the video to avoid detection in order to repost it after it had been taken down. This will require research driven across industry and academia. To that end, we’re also investing $7.5 million in new research partnerships with leading academics from three universities, designed to improve image and video analysis technology.
In March 2019, the European Union Parliament adopted a law to protect author’s rights and funnel back to the publishers and journalists part of the advertising benefits that are going to social networks. Articles 11 and 13 in particular have caused a lot of controversy. What is Facebook’s position? Does this law pose a threat to Facebook’s business model?
We take intellectual property rights seriously. We believe in empowering creators and publishers to share their content easily, and have invested in processes and tools such as Rights Manager to help protect copyright while doing so. However, we are concerned that proposals to require further filtering of content could impact our user experience in Europe. The directive will now be implemented by member states, and we want to make sure that people can still share things easily but that legitimate IP is also protected. That’s an important balance to get right. We look forward to working with policy makers, creators, and rights holders as EU member states move to implement these new rules.
Interview with Jesper Doub by Caroline Brizard
Jesper Doub is the director of news partnerships, EMEA, Facebook. In this role he focuses on building relationships with journalists and publishers across Europe, Middle East and Africa as they embrace digital change and seek new, sustainable business models. Prior to joining Facebook, Jesper served as CEO, SPIEGEL ONLINE and SPIEGEL TV, as well as publishing director of SPIEGEL-Verlag. Jesper Doub is a speaker at the GEN Summit in Athens, 13–15 June 2019