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Facebook to prioritise 'trustworthy' news sources

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc (FB.O) will begin to prioritise "trustworthy" news outlets on its stream of social media posts as it works to combat "sensationalism" and "misinformation," Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Friday.

The company, which has more than 2 billion monthly users, said it will use surveys to determine rankings on how trustworthy news outlets are. It also said it would put an emphasis on local news sources.

The move is likely to send shockwaves through the media landscape in nearly every country, given the ubiquity of the world's largest social network and how central it has become in some places to the distribution of news.

Zuckerberg outlined the shakeup in a post on Facebook, saying that starting next week the News Feed, the company's centrepiece product, would prioritise "high quality news" over less trusted sources.

"There's too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today," Zuckerberg wrote.

"Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don't specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them," he wrote.

The change will affect not only links posted by news outlets but also news stories that individuals share, Facebook said.

At the same time, Zuckerberg said he expects the amount of news overall on Facebook to shrink by 20 percent: to about 4 percent of all content from 5 percent currently.

Facebook has had a stormy relationship with news organizations, especially those with strong political leanings. In 2016, Republican U.S. lawmakers expressed concern that Facebook was suppressing news stories of interest to conservative readers.

Facebook said that ranking by trustworthiness was not intended to directly impact any specific groups of publishers based on their size or ideological rankings.

Zuckerberg said he settled on the idea of surveying Facebook users after rejecting having the company itself rank news outlets trustworthiness.

"We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective," he wrote in his post.

Facebook said it did not plan to release the survey results because they will represent an incomplete picture of how a story's position in a person's feed is determined.

Many factors determine where a post appears in a Facebook user's News Feed: from the subject of the post, to who wrote it, to who is commenting on it.

News organizations immediately began considering how they and competitors would fare in the ranking.

"This sounds like extremely good news for news publishers that aren't hated by one side or the other," Tom Gara, opinion editor at BuzzFeed News, wrote on Twitter.

Last week, Zuckerberg said the company would change the way it filters posts and videos on News Feed to prioritise what friends and family share.


(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler)