Reporters Group: Facebook Test Threatens News

Says it could create pay-for-play world that marginalizes news outlets

Reporters Without Borders, the group that works to protect journalists, and journalism, across the globe, has asked Facebook to abandon a news feed test it is conducting in six countries, saying the change, if implemented, would imperil many media outlets.

Facebook says it is testing ways to improve its news feed, a test being conducted in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia.

"The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content," Facebook explained. "We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further."

But Reporters Without Borders was still worried.

"Under this change, news media stories no longer appear in the main 'News Feed' unless they pay to appear there," the group said. "The 'News Feed' now only shows content from the user’s 'friends' and paid content, including advertisements. News media content is relegated to a less prominent 'Explore' feed," it said in calling on Facebook to scrap the test, period.

"There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore," blogged Adam Mosseri, Facebook's head of News Feed, when the test first drew the attention of reporters. "Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation — but that was not our intention."

Intention notwithstanding, Reporters Without Borders still saw the approach as marginalizing the news media.

“We call on Facebook to behave more responsibly,” said Elodie Vialle, head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology Desk, in a statement Monday (Nov. 6). “We are extremely worried about the way this test is being conducted, the lack of transparency and the potential consequences for the media. Facebook’s goal is clear. It wants to keep its users on its site for as long as possible. But this must not threaten journalistic freedom and independence by undermining their practitioners.”