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Facebook ‘considering’ launching News tab in India; will pay news publishers

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Facebook said that it is “considering” launching its News tab in multiple countries, including India, UK, Germany, France, and Brazil, after it had first launched the service in the US in June. The timeline to launch the service in these countries is vague, as Facebook said it will roll out “within the next six months to a year”. A notable absentee in this list is Australia, where a new code has proposed that digital entities, such as Facebook and Google, will have to pay Australian media companies for news content (more on that below). The development also comes as Facebook finds itself embroiled in a controversy in India for not censoring hateful content from members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, possibly to safeguard its business prospects in the country.

Facebook said it will pay news publishers in each country “to ensure their content is available in the new product”. However, since “content habits and news inventory vary by country”, the company will 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”. In the US, Facebook features news from over 200 outlets in its News tab.

According to Facebook, it uses a machine learning model to “distinguish” news from “everyday content”. Facebook News “only” includes content from publishers registered in Facebook’s news Page index, which requires all publishers to “comply with broadly-accepted journalistic standards”. Facebook said it prioritises content from publishers who are “transparent about their staff via editorial bylines and contact information for authors”. Publishers also cannot have “direct, meaningful ties to political entities” if they want to appear in News.

The team that helps select stories for Facebook News is made up of journalists with “experience in a diverse range of newsrooms”. Their job is to sort through what news organisations are reporting and prioritise stories with original reporting, and on-the-record sources, among other things. “In special circumstances, we may curate content from partners that are experts in a given field,” Facebook said.

Australia wants Facebook and Google to pay news publishers for their content

Australia has put out a draft News Media Bargaining Code for consultation which forces platforms like Facebook and Google to pay Australian news companies for their content. The code also requires platforms to give news companies nearly a month’s notice of any changes to its algorithms which may affect referral traffic to news sites, or those affecting rankings of paywalled news, and “substantial changes” to how news is displayed, and even advertising of news. Google and Facebook would also have to provide data about user engagement on news content on their platforms.

Google has warned its users in Australia that the code would force it to favour news businesses over individual channels, websites, and “small businesses”. It also claimed that news businesses would be given information that would help them artificially inflate their rankings.

Facebook accused of selective enforcement of hate-speech rules in India

A Wall Street Journal report revealed that the social media company refused to take down hateful content by BJP members in order to avoid damage to its business prospects in the country. It was reported that Facebook India’s public policy team, headed by Ankhi Das, had refused to take down posts by Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana, although they were flagged as “hate speech”. Singh, in his posts, had said “Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to raze mosques”.

Opposition members have rallied against Facebook and the central government since the report, calling for scrutiny from a Joint Parliamentary Committee. A Delhi government committee has also held a hearing on allegations of bias against Facebook.

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