Facebook tries to make friends with media by investing $5 million into Australian journalism

Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Facebook is planning to invest $5 million into Australian journalism and help publishers understand how they can profit from its platform.

As part of the investment, Facebook announced on Thursday it will launch the Facebook Journalism Project News Accelerator in Australia later this year in partnership with the Walkley Foundation, which celebrates and supports Australian journalism.

The social media giant, which drives traffic to publisher’s websites, has seen its relationship with the media industry become increasingly complex as it’s scaled into a platform used by 2 billion people every month.

It drives huge amounts of traffic to news websites and its algorithms dictate what news millions of people are exposed to on a daily basis. But its platform has also aided the spread of fake news, propaganda, and extremist content. Last week, it was revealed the company’s platform enabled advertisers to target Australians that expressed an interest in extremist ideologies including “fascism,” raising further concerns that Facebook can be used to promote civil unrest and destabilise local politics.

Facebook said teams of journalists from media organisations across Australia will be invited to take part in the 12-week accelerator program, which was piloted in the US in 2018. Program participants will be taught how to connect with — and monetise — their audiences both on and off Facebook.

Australian news partners will also be given an undisclosed amount of funding to experiment with video, Facebook said.

Andrew Hunter, Facebook’s head of news partnerships for Australia and New Zealand, told Business Insider that the program will be run in Sydney in the second half of 2019.

“There are a number of planks to our program and one of them is to work with trusted news organisations to ensure that the journalism that is shared on Facebook is of the highest quality, accurate, timely, and relevant to the audience,” said Hunter. “We execute that strategy in a number of ways including creating products or co-developing products with news organisations.”

Facebook has built breaking news tags that it allows trusted news providers to promote breaking news stories to their audiences. These are being used by the likes of The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News, as well as several publishers in New Zealand.

Hunter said Facebook has also built a number of tools that can be used to spot “bad content” and fake accounts.

The accelerator funds will be administered by the Walkley Foundation.

“The Walkley Foundation for journalism welcomes this commitment to Australian news as part of Facebook’s wider support for the global news industry,” Walkley Foundation CEO Louisa Graham said in a statement.

“We work to celebrate and encourage great journalism, and to help all Australians recognise its power to make our nation and our society stronger. We look forward to working with Facebook to boost school students’ media literacy skills and newsroom innovation in 2019 and beyond.”

Facebook announced that it is also partnering with the Alliance for Journalists Freedom (AFJ), which works to promote media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region and keep journalists safe.

Facebook will make payments directly to the Alliance for Journalists’ Safety and to news partners for video production.

Professor Peter Greste, Director of AJF said in a statement: “With media freedom increasingly under assault across the region, this partnership is incredibly timely. It will help the Alliance support and advocate for journalists throughout the Asia Pacific, so they can report and investigate freely and safely.”