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Facebook new ‘News’ tab poses political problems. | Flickr

Facebook is great for checking up on friends and receiving birthday reminders. But the recent addition of a news tab is bad for users and the jour­nalism industry, as it places more power in the hands of a tech giant, while taking away power from media orga­ni­za­tions and con­sumers.

With its news tab, which launched Oct. 25, Facebook has greater control over what news content users see and what pub­lishers appear on users’ feeds.

Although Facebook claimed in a company statement that it released this feature because jour­nalism “plays a critical role in our democracy,” it’s more likely that CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to try to beat Twitter at its own game: polar­izing users by dis­trib­uting selective infor­mation.

People share news stories on Facebook all the time. The problem with the news-tab feature, however, is that people could begin to use Facebook as their primary or even their only source of news. With the feature, Facebook has con­sol­i­dated social updates with news stories from hand-picked outlets, which makes for a haz­ardous mix.

Facebook now pays an undis­closed number of pub­lishers licensing fees of $1 million or more a year. This creates a new layer of tension between the business and news sides of media com­panies where cash is flowing from big tech to the news industry.

It also allows Facebook to decide what outlets are trust­worthy.

Facebook has already part­nered with the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ABC News, and Bloomberg News – all of which write for a left-leaning audience. The more the Times and other large pub­li­ca­tions cater to Facebook users, the more money these outlets can make. Of course, pub­lishers should satisfy the desires of their readers. But they don’t need to sac­rifice their jour­nal­istic integrity to do so.

In recent years, con­ser­v­ative com­men­tators and jour­nalists have accused Facebook of spreading inac­curate news and having an anti-con­ser­v­ative bias. For these reasons, Zuckerberg met with with many con­ser­v­ative jour­nalists and com­men­tators like Tucker Carlson, Matthew Con­tinetti, Hugh Hewitt, Ben Shapiro, and Byron York prior to launching the news tab in order to design a program that wouldn’t exclude right-wing views.

Con­se­quently, Facebook has dis­closed to the public that it chose to partner with one right-wing outlet, for the time being. Of all the right-leaning news outlets, Facebook chose Bre­itbart, the pro-Trump news site many con­ser­v­a­tives don’t take seri­ously because of its support for extreme right-wing thinking and asso­ci­ation with con­spiracy the­o­rists, like Alex Jones.

Although a team of jour­nalists will select “today’s stories,” algo­rithms will determine which of those news stories pop up on a user’s feed. It’s pos­sible that a story from Bre­itbart will never appear on a liberal’s feed. If it does, however, the liberal will see only the most extreme form of right-wing thinking and assume that everyone on the per­ceived-right thinks that way.

The news tab will have five key fea­tures according to Facebook: today’s stories, per­son­al­ization, top sec­tions, your sub­scrip­tions, and con­trols. Each feature holds the key to more dis­in­for­mation.
Due to the profit-driven nature of busi­nesses, it’s likely that the team of jour­nalists choosing “today’s stories” will choose popular stories from left-leaning media outlets that will earn Facebook the most money per click.

Earning money isn’t a bad thing — except when it drives political agendas of biased jour­nalists.

The “per­son­al­ization” feature is “based on the news you read, share and follow.” But what Facebook should have said is that this will prevent users from seeing any­thing that might chal­lenge the way they under­stand the world. “We want new forms of jour­nalism in the digital age, including indi­vidual, inde­pendent jour­nalism, to flourish. So we will con­tinue to expand the algo­rithmic selection of stories driving the majority of Facebook News,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice pres­ident of global news part­ner­ships, and Mona Saran­takos, product manager for Facebook News, in a company statement.

Finally, the “con­trols” feature allows users to “hide articles, topics and pub­lishers you don’t want to see.” Similar to Twitter, Facebook gives users the ability to reject certain stories or news outlets. Although the news tab aims to help users explore “a wider range of their news interests,” this feature reduces the variety in stories people can expe­rience. Lib­erals can block Fox News and con­ser­v­a­tives can block CNN.

Facebook may think it’s doing everybody a favor by com­bining rela­tionship sta­tuses with the latest update on the impeachment inquiry. The reality is that Facebook is med­dling with con­sumers’ access to news stories, con­tributing to the infection of mis­in­for­mation across America.

Julia Mullins is a junior studying pol­itics and the City News editor for The Col­legian.