Google and Facebook say they are racing to elevate quality journalism in the lead-up to the 2020 elections, but some fear the changes could have unintended consequences for news media.
Google said this week that it is tweaking its algorithms and the guidelines for its human search quality raters in a manner that will allow original reporting – news discovered by the publication and not aggregated from another outlet – to obtain a higher ranking on its search pages and maintain that ranking for a longer time.
That follows Facebook last month saying would begin offering several major news outlets as much as US$3 million ($4.7m) a year to license headlines and previews of articles, according to the Wall Street Journal, for use in a new feature called News Tab that is curated in part by veteran news editors.
Both companies have also pledged US$300m to fund local journalism projects over a three-year period.
Still, some in news media are concerned that Google’s and Facebook’s efforts may actually prove to have less of a positive impact than the companies envision – and may even be detrimental.
“If they want to have quality content for their users, which they say they want to have, they’re going to have to come up with a more broadly sustainable business model for publishers than handing out candy every once in a while,” said David Chavern of the News Media Alliance trade group, which represents 2,000 news organisations and has been critical of tech companies.
Much of the way news currently surfaces is due to algorithms, which have been trained to identify important news. But some signs that might signal an important story – like lots of people sharing it or clicking on it – doesn’t necessarily mean it’s real news. And the systems can also be tricked.