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News organizations criticize Facebook over its rules for handling political ads

News organizations have taken exception to being classified alongside political groups in Facebook's new rules for handling political ads.
by on 19th May 2018

News Media Alliance, a trade group representing over 2,000 news organizations including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times, has released an official statement criticizing Facebook’s new approach to managing political advertisements.

Facebook’s new policy is a response to criticism from news organizations and public institutions about the nature of political messaging on its platform around the U.S. election of 2016.

It will result in the Silicon Valley based social network maintaining a public, searchable archive of all political advertisements featured on its platform, which will also contain data on the total cost and impressions of each political ad served.

Moreover, each ad deemed political in nature will carry a “paid for by” label and a disclaimer.

However, despite commending Facebook for its attempts to “create a more transparent advertising ecosystem,” News Media Alliance, in a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, took exception over news organizations being categorized alongside other political groups.

It also expressed concerns over sponsored ads by news organizations carrying labels and disclaimers.

“You are forcing publishers to make a choice between labeling that is fundamentally counter to who we are and what we do, or to walk back our presence on a dominant platform for news consumption and discovery,” said News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern.

News organizations are enduring an increasingly strained relationship with Facebook.

While the world’s largest social network has instigated numerous changes in the last few years, partially because of negative press coverage, the most damaging for news organizations is arguably its decision to prioritize what it deems are “meaningful interactions” between family and friends and local news content ahead of national news content.

Organizations on Facebook have also witnessed a marked decrease in the reach of content on, and total referral traffic driven by, the social network.

A recent analysis of traffic to 150,000 websites by Shareaholic discovered that Facebook contributes 18.6 percent of total referral traffic to the websites analyzed, which is a substantial decrease from its contribution of 30.90 percent in 2016.

In the letter, Chavern also went onto say, “Newsgathering and reporting about politics is not the same thing as advocacy or politics. The role of news is to help people understand the issues of the day, which is critical to a functioning democracy”.

After expressing a desire to “participate in the process to improve the current standards,” Chavern also stated several measures he believes would improve the rules set to be enforced from the 22nd May.

“For example, you could require disclosure from all advertisers on all advertising; exempt news in the ad archive and labeling process for political content; or label and archive news independently from politics and advocacy,” he said.

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, only 38 percent of Americans trust the news (which is a slight increase on figures from the previous year).

The report also stated, “we [found] that in many countries the underlying drivers of mistrust [of the mainstream media] are as much to do with deep-rooted political polarisation and perceived mainstream media bias”.

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