In October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the creation of a new "Facebook News" tab. According to the company, the new tab will be "a dedicated place for news on Facebook" that "highlights the most relevant national stories of the day." While Facebook's main news feed is notorious for surfacing incendiary and inaccurate stories, Zuckerberg assures us that "the top stories in Facebook News will be curated by a team of diverse and seasoned journalists."
Zuckerberg made his announcement on stage with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson, a top executive in Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media empire.
Thus far, Facebook News has been available only to a small subset of Facebook users. But as the United States heads toward election day, Facebook says it will make the tab widely available. Zuckerberg says his goal is for tens of millions of people to use Facebook News, which would make it one of the most influential sources of information in the country.
But who is the "team" behind Facebook News?
As Popular Information reported in November, the person in charge of Facebook News is former NBC News anchor Campbell Brown. Before joining Facebook, Brown launched her own news site, The74, with funding from Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In a column shortly after Trump nominated DeVos, Brown praised DeVos as "tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons."
After joining Facebook, Brown has maintained her involvement in The74, devoting 5 hours per week to the website, according to IRS records. Over the last year, The74 has been savaging presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. One column on the website described Warren as "the second coming of Karl Marx."
Facebook took offense to Popular Information's reporting and the implication that Facebook News might have an anti-liberal bias. The company attacked this reporter on Twitter.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that Facebook was hiring Jennifer Williams, an executive producer for Fox News, "to head video strategy for Facebook News." Williams spent a dozen years as a senior producer on Fox & Friends, a show that's notorious for its casual relationship with the truth.
In a column for Media Matters, Matt Gertz notes that, during Williams' tenure, Fox & Friends "promoted a quickly debunked report that then-Sen. Barack Obama had gone to school at an extremist Islamic madrassa as a child."
Some other "highlights" of Williams' tenure with Fox & Friends:
Two New York Times reporters, Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe, wrote a piece about Fox News' ratings, which were declining. Fox & Friends labeled them "attack dogs" and "featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered -- the journalists' teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe's hair moved further back on his head."
Fox & Friends was sued "for repeating as fact an online parody news report of a school prank that included fabricated quotes attributed to the superintendent."
Fox & Friends interviewed conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who said on the program that the Obama campaign "has a false, fake birth certificate posted on their website.”
Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson touted an article from another birther website, WorldNetDaily, claiming " "[s]enior terrorist leaders" have indicated “that they hope Americans sweep the Democrats into power because of the party's position on withdrawing from Iraq.”
Williams will be part of Facebook's news curation team, which means she will be selecting content to be featured in the News tab.
In response to an inquiry from Popular Information, Facebook defended hiring Williams. Williams' work with Fox & Friends, the spokesperson emphasized, occurred before Trump was president. More recently, Facebook stressed, Williams worked with Fox News' daytime talent, including Gretchen Carlson and Dana Perino.
The Breitbart in the coal mine
Williams is joining a team that is already facing serious questions about its ideological leanings and decision-making.
Facebook says any publication included in the News tab must meeting its "integrity standards." But Facebook News team elected to include Breitbart — a noxious right-wing site that was caught laundering white nationalist talking points — among the 200 "quality" sources included in the launch.
Thousands of advertisers have abandoned Breitbart because of the website's racist and unreliable content. Breitbart is also banned from being cited as a source on Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia says Breitbart "should not be used, ever, as a reference for facts, due to its unreliability."
In 2017, for example, Breitbart "made up a false story that an immigrant started deadly Sonoma wildfires." The story, which was not backed by "any evidence," was picked up by other right-wing outlets like The Drudge Report and InfoWars, and spread quickly on Facebook. In 2016, Breitbart dispatched a reporter to a small Idaho town to report on a fake "Muslim invasion." It hawks scam cryptocurrencies to its readership.
But Brown defended the selection on her Facebook page, saying it was important for Facebook News to "include content from ideological publishers on both the left and the right -- as long as that content meets our integrity standards for misinformation."
It's unclear how Breitbart meets this standard.
Facebook has refused to release the list of the 200 media outlets included in the initial launch of Facebook News.
Facebook told Popular Information that the Facebook News team also includes former employees from CNN, The New York Times, ABC News, BBC, and HuffPost. With the exception of HuffPost, none of these outlets is part of the progressive media ecosystem. And none plays anything close to the role of Fox News, which is effectively a propaganda arm for the Trump White House.
Facebook's contention that Williams' hire as part of the leadership of Facebook News is balanced by an unnamed employee who used to work at ABC has similarities to its approach to its fact-checking program. Facebook recruited the Daily Caller, a far-right site founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, to become an official fact-checker for Facebook. The move was orchestrated from Facebook's DC office to "balance" existing fact-checkers like the Associated Press and the Politifact.
A former employee at Facebook's DC office told Popular Information in October that decisions at Facebook "are made to benefit Republicans because they are paranoid about their reputation among conservative Republicans, particularly Trump." Everyone who has power in Facebook's DC office, according to multiple former Facebook employees, is a Republican.
Thanks for reading!
Anyone who thought Facebook would hire a seasoned veteran from the mainstream news world has not been paying attention. Mark Zuckerberg continues to placate those in power in hopes of squashing any talks of breaking up and/or regulating his company. The "news" tab is another tipoff to Trump and Republicans that Facebook is ready, willing, and able to distribute propaganda and misinformation in the 2020 elections.
Regardless of where Elizabeth Warren finishes in the primaries, we should neither absolve Facebook of their commitment to disinformation nor should we downplay the seriousness of social media companies elevating illegitimate media outlets like Breitbart and the Daily Caller. They must be held accountable, not to mention regulated/broken up.
Good work as always, Judd.