Facebook Initiative The good, the bad and the fake

Facing accusations of spreading fake news - and possibly punitive legislation - Facebook and eight other organizations have launched a $14-million initiative to boost news literacy.
It's real: Mark Zuckerberg and his body guards jogging in Berlin.

There's real money to be made in fake news. Last month, YouTube changed its advertising policy after companies stopped ad campaigns on the online video platform because they were running alongside offensive content promoting terrorism or anti-Semitism, for instance.

In theory, Facebook, the world’s largest social media site led by founder Mark Zuckerberg, runs the same risk. Most of its $10.2 billion (€9.6 billion), net profit last year stemmed from advertising.

The Silicon Valley-based company has teamed up with media organizations to filter its content for fake news. Awareness of the issue has grown since November’s election in the United States, where some blamed fake news spread on Facebook for influencing the presidential outcome.

On Sunday, Facebook and eight other organizations, including the Ford Foundation and browser Mozilla, announced a new $14-million fund to improve people's ability to judge news. The groups will finance what is called a “News Integrity Initiative,” whose goal it is “to advance news literacy, to increase trust in journalism around the world, and to better inform the public conversation,” according to a statement.

The initiative will address the problems of misinformation, disinformation and the opportunities the internet provides to inform the public conversation in new ways. Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships

The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism will run the initiative, which will finance applied research, projects and meetings with experts.

CUNY journalist professor Jeff Jarvis told Handelsblatt the initiative should support public projects, local journalism and startups that improve communication between journalists and readers.

“The initiative will address the problems of misinformation, disinformation and the opportunities the internet provides to inform the public conversation in new ways,” Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said in a separate statement.

In Germany, which has general elections coming up on September 24, Facebook had already enlisted non-profit investigative journalism bureau, Correctiv, to expose and correct false stories posted on the social network.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has upped pressure on Facebook, Google and others to fight fake news, threatening legislation which could fine firms if they fail to remove offensive content within a day after it is reported.

Another 19 organizations, including the Hamburg Media School in Hamburg, the Sciences Po Journalism School in France and the Walkley Foundation in Australia, have pledged to support the initiative by organizing events and proposing projects and research for potential funding, the organization said. It will seek more funders and participants.

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Johannes Steger is a reporter covering companies and markets. Britta Weddeling lives in Silicon Valley and reports on the internet and technology industry. Gilbert Kreijger, an editor with Handelsblatt Global, contributed to this article. To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected]