“It is a fundamental mischaracterization of journalism that threatens to undermine its ability to play its critical role in society,” said the letter, also sent to USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll,
The Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker, The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet and The Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, whose outlets supported the alliance’s position. In response, Facebook’s head of news partnerships Campbell Brown issued a statement.
“Preventing misinformation and interference in elections is one of our top priorities. In response, we’re making changes that impact political and issue ads, and that will include news stories on politics and issues,” Brown said.
She later said that the company recognized “news content about politics is different and we are working with publishers to develop the right approach.” Facebook is trying to tighten election security after being gamed by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election.
As part of these efforts, it’s implementing new rules for paid ads, the main way Russians spread divisive messages to stir up voters. New initiatives include the disclosures people are accustomed to hearing on the radio or seeing in newspapers or on television.
Political advertisers will also have to go through an authorization process in which they will confirm their identities, where they are located in the U.S. and what candidate, organization or business they represent before being able to place ads for political candidates on Facebook.
Election-related ads will be labeled in Facebook and Instagram feeds. And the public will be able to view an online archive of ads and get more information on them, such as how much money was spent, the number of impressions they received and the demographics of the audience they reached.
Pressured by lawmakers, Zuckerberg promised last year to take these voluntary steps to deter foreign governments from using Facebook to manipulate elections.
During and after the presidential election, Facebook sold approximately $100,000 worth of political ads from fake accounts and pages out of Russia. News publishers say they buy ads to promote news coverage and those ads should not be given the same treatment as political ads, even if these boosted posts involve politics.
They suggest that Facebook exempt news in the online archive of political ads and from the labeling process for political content, or that it label and archive news independently from politics and advocacy.
“While we applaud Facebook’s efforts to introduce more transparency around the political ads that appear on its platform, we strenuously disagree with the notion that journalism on political issues should be equated with political ads,” Maribel Wadsworth, publisher of USA TODAY and president of the USA TODAY Network, said in a statement.
Facebook has already walked back some of its planned labeling on political content in the face of publisher opposition. Rather than “political ad,” Facebook will require the “paid for by” label. And instead of calling the ad archive a political ad archive, it will say “ads with political content.”
Friday’s complaint from the nation’s largest and most powerful publishers is just the latest tension in the uneasy relationship between the traditional news media and the world’s largest social media company.
News organizations have come to rely on the vast distribution of Facebook, with its 2.2 billion users, to drive online traffic to their websites and mobile apps.
But Facebook is increasingly a go-to news source for many Americans, siphoning eyeballs and ad dollars from traditional media companies. As the concern about fake news on Facebook grew during the 2016 election, the company attempted to strengthen its ties with established media.
A journalism project announced by Facebook last year aimed to help news outlets find ways to gain revenue. But recent changes made to Facebook’s News Feed prioritizing content from friends and family over news and videos added to strains between the social network and news outlets.