Mark Zuckerberg struggling to explain why Breitbart belongs on Facebook News

On Friday morning, Facebook announced its plan to invest millions of dollars on high quality journalism, fueling the launching of a new dedicated news tab on its own platform. CEO Mark Zuckerberg combined News Corp CEO Robert Thomson for a meeting shortly after, and Thomson hammered home the need for objective journalism in the era of social networking, waxing nostalgic about the value of rigorous fact-checking in his early career.

An hour later, however, Zuckerberg struggled to describe how Facebook’s most controversial new partner fits into its own mission.

Facebook News is partnering with various regional newspapers and some significant national partners, such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. This past year, Wikipedia announced an unreliable source for citations, along with the British tabloid Daily Mail and the left-wing website Occupy Democrats.

That is led to queries about why Breitbart belongs to Facebook News, a quality that will allegedly be held to much tougher standards than the standard News Feed. In a question-and-answer session following the interview, Zuckerberg advised Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan which Facebook could have”objective standards” for quality.

“Most of the remainder of that which we operate is helping provide people a voice widely and ensuring everyone can share their view,” he said. “That is not this. This is a space that’s devoted to high quality and curated news”

“Part of having this be a reliable source is that it ought to have a diversity of perspectives in there, so I believe you would like content that represents different viewpoints,” he said. Zuckerberg reiterated these viewpoints should comply with Facebook’s standards, and he was cagey about Breitbart’s existence, stating that”with someone be potential or qualified to show up” does not guarantee regular placement. “But I certainly believe you would like to incorporate a breadth of content in there,” he said.

Facebook has not released a complete list of all News partners, so we do not know the job’s full extent. Breitbart is the sole right-leaning title Facebook’s record, which includes National Review, The Washington Times, and News Corp’s own Fox News. However, it has faced unique challenges to its editorial integrity — including, lately, some of Breitbart’s own former employees denouncing its own policies.

Zuckerberg’s response is unlikely to satisfy critics, who see the site’s addition as an illustration of Facebook surrendering principle to appease right-wing commentators. Activist group Sleeping Giants — that has spearheaded a significant contributor boycott of Breitbart — retweeted several reporters criticizing the information, such as BuzzFeed News author Joe Bernstein, whose reporting on Breitbart and white nationalism caused among its main backers to sell his stake.

However, Facebook wants to win over Republicans, including lawmakers who’ve grilled Zuckerberg in Congress over shaky claims of”anti-conservative prejudice,” as well as President Donald Trump, who has threatened tech businesses with new legislation and antitrust actions. Distributing Breitbart may earn Facebook condemnation from such quarters.

At a New York Times editorial, Zuckerberg noted that blatant misinformation is prohibited on Facebook News. “If a publisher articles misinformation, it will no longer appear in the item,” he wrote. In theory, Breitbart will just stay on Facebook News if it hews to the rules. But that does not explain why Facebook picked an outlet known for sensationalism and misinformation in the first place — and as Facebook News evolves, kicking off a website like Breitbart could cause more controversy than not adding it whatsoever.

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