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Facebook will ask us to decide what's 'high quality' news

To curb "misinformation and polarization," Facebook will prioritize news from "trustworthy" publishers -- and its users will decide who's trustworthy.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

James Martin/CNET

Facebook is shaking up your news feed yet again. 

After announcing last week that it will prioritize posts from friends and family members over those from brands and publishers, the social media site will also begin focusing on news that comes from "trusted sources." 

In a statement posted to -- where else? -- his Facebook page, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that though posts from news publications will make up a small amount of a user's news feed (about 4 percent), his company isn't up to the task of choosing which sources are trustworthy.

So, Facebook will ask us to choose instead.

It'll work like this: As part of ongoing quality surveys Facebook conducts with users, the social network will begin asking if people know a news source and whether they trust it. Ultimately, Zuckerberg said, this will help the company determine what's a broadly trustworthy source and what isn't.

"There's too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today," wrote Zuckerberg. "Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don't specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them."

The move marks Facebook's latest effort to respond to concerns its service was twisted into a propaganda machine during the 2016 US election. We've learned that publishers have abused Facebook's algorithm and enticed the company's audience of more than 2 billion people to click on, like, and share sensational stories and click-bait headlines, and we've seen how Facebook's powerful audience can be used to spread false and malicious stories.

It's significant that Zuckerberg made the announcement on his own Facebook page. Though he hasn't gone to Capitol Hill to publicly testify about how his service was abused, he has made it his goal to spend this year fixing issues that have spread on his service, like hate and abuse.

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This isn't Facebook's first attempt to solve the news problem. It's tried partnering with news organizations; it's attempted to train computer programs to spot hoaxes; and it's even asked us, the people using Facebook, to identify false news when we find it.

Whether this latest approach will work is an open question. The hyperpartisan nature of political discourse in the US means there's also debate about which news sources can be trusted. There's even debate about the meaning of the popular political term "fake news."

Facebook declined to make Zuckerberg available for an interview, but a spokesman noted that these surveys will go out to a broad range of people. The goal isn't to punish any one news organization (the company doesn't plan to release publisher's scores), but rather to show people more from their favorite sources, as well as trusted sources.

"My hope is that this update about trusted news and last week's update about meaningful interactions will help make time on Facebook time well spent," Zuckerberg wrote on Friday.

First published Jan. 19 at 1:08 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:33 p.m.: Adds background; 1:49 p.m.: Adds info about false-news efforts; 2:19 p.m.: Adds details from Facebook.

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