Facebook is planning to expand its dedicated news section and says it is “considering” the UK, Germany, France, India, and Brazil as possible recipients, it announced Tuesday. The company’s timeline is vague: “within the next six months to a year,” so it’s curious why Facebook would announce something not yet imminent. But given Facebook’s volatile history with the news industry, and the trend toward requiring platforms to pay news outlets for their content, it’s possible the company is simply testing the waters for its next move.
Facebook launched its News tab to US audiences in June, with plans to pay publishers that participated. To qualify as a partner, Facebook required publishers to pass its integrity standards and to have large enough audiences. It said it would rely on third-party fact-checkers to monitor posts for clickbait, copyright violations, and sensationalist content.
Notably absent from the list of possible countries that would receive the News tab next is Australia, which recently unveiled plans to compel tech platforms to help pay for the free content they disseminate. France, which is on Facebook’s list of possible future News targets, ordered Google to pay for content from French publishers in April.
In Tuesday’s announcement, company vice president of global news partnerships Campbell Brown says the News content may vary by country to keep pace with consumer habits. “We’ll work closely with news partners in each country to tailor the experience and test ways to deliver a valuable experience for people while also honoring publishers’ business models,” Brown wrote.
There are plenty of reasons for news publishers in the US and elsewhere to be wary of Facebook’s news efforts. Its News Feed algorithm and ad business have proven devastating for the industry, particularly for local news publishers. And its track record on news is littered with failures, including the infamous “pivot to video” movement of the early and mid-2010s, with publishers pouring resources into video production seeking to benefit from Facebook’s video platform. “Pivot to video,” however, has become a catchphrase meaning “short-sighted failure,” because it turned out Facebook had juiced the metrics. And of course there’s the debacle of the 2016 election cycle, which resulted in Facebook removing its Trending Topics section amid accusations it was biased against conservative media.
What the regulatory environment will look like for Facebook and other social media platforms six months to a year from now is anyone’s guess, and it may depend, at least in the US, on the outcome of the November presidential election. Until then, it appears Facebook is holding its cards close to the chest.