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November 2, 2022updated 21 Nov 2022 10:22am

Meta to replace Facebook News tab’s human editors with AI

Meta is planning to make curation of its Facebook News tab in the UK fully automated.

By William Turvill

Meta plans to end human curation of the UK Facebook News tab, turning it into a fully automated product, Press Gazette has learned.

The technology giant informed publishers of its decision to end a curation contract with Upday shortly after a Press Gazette investigation aired concerns about working conditions on the Facebook News tab. The aggregation tool is curated around the clock by a team of roughly 15 journalists.

The decision to pull investment from the product comes at a time when Meta is seeking to shift Facebook’s focus away from news and towards short-form video.

Meta claims that news is no longer a priority for the Facebook platform and its users. Many in the news industry dispute this assertion and believe that the tech giant’s apparent loss of interest in news is motivated by a desire to avoid paying publishers for their content. Australia passed a law last year that effectively forced Meta and Google to pay for news, and similar legislation is threatened in Canada, the UK and the US.

Meta first launched the Facebook News tab – a scheme under which participating news publishers are paid for their content – in the United States in 2019.

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The tech giant informed US publishers over the summer that their three-year contracts – the largest of which were thought to have been worth $20m or more per year – would not be renewed.

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Meta appears likely to end the Facebook News tab in the UK in 2024 when its three-year contracts with publishers expire. The decision to end human curation of the UK Facebook News tab supports the theory that Meta is losing interest in news.

Much of the tab, minus a top stories section, is already curated by artificial intelligence. From early 2023, the entire tab will be AI-generated.

Meta informed publishers of its decision to end its curation contract with Upday, which is owned by German publishing giant Axel Springer, last month, days after a Press Gazette investigation raised concerns about the arrangement.

The UK news tab has, since its launch in January 2021, been curated by a group of around 15 journalists, many of whom work as freelances.

In the summer, Upday – under pressure from Meta – told freelances they would need to sign new contracts that would forbid them from working for “competitor” news organisations. This caused upset among curators who are technically on zero-hours contracts.

Facebook News tab insiders spoken to by Press Gazette believe Upday’s contract runs until April 2023, though it is unclear whether freelance curators will work up to this date.

Earlier this year, Upday lost its contract to run the German news tab amid industry concerns that its ownership by Axel Springer would affect curation decisions. In Germany, Meta handed the news tab contract to Deutschen Presse-Agentur (DPA), a press agency, rather than opting for automation.

A Meta spokesperson said: “We are always evaluating our global curation partnerships based on user and product needs.”

An Axel Springer spokesperson said: “The curation of the Facebook News Tab by Upday was a fixed-term collaboration that will expire in 2023. However, this collaboration represents only a small part of Axel Springer’s global partnership with Facebook. We cannot comment on what future plans Facebook has for curating its Facebook News Tab in the UK.”

Picture: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

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