Facebook executive defends inclusion of Breitbart in news section

Facebook executive defends inclusion of Breitbart in news section
Facebook via CNN
Facebook says publishers on both the left and right should be included as sources for its news service.

The executive overseeing Facebook’s recently-unveiled news section appeared to defend the company’s controversial decision to include Breitbart, a far-right website known for misinformation, as one of its sources.

Campbell Brown, the head of global news partnerships at Facebook, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that she believed when “building out a destination for news on Facebook” content “from ideological publishers on both the left and right” should be included.

Facebook unveiled its news section, which has been in the works for months, last Friday. When Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg first announced in April the company was creating a section for news, he said it would be devoted to curating “high quality” information from “trustworthy” sources.

But Facebook said on Friday that the news section would include Breitbart.

In her Wednesday post, Brown did not identify Breitbart by name, but its inclusion in the news tab marketed as a place for “high quality” information from “trustworthy” sources has sparked uproar.

Breitbart, previously headed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, has published incendiary commentary.

The website also has a long history of publishing brazenly misleading stories about Democrats and critics of President Trump.

Brown, however, suggested that despite such a history, Breitbart has met Facebook’s “integrity standards for misinformation.”

“All the content on Facebook News today meets those standards,” Brown wrote. “If a publisher violates our standards by posting misinformation or hate speech on our platform, they will be removed from Facebook News.”

“There will invariably be news organizations, ideological or otherwise, who say or write things that I find abhorrent, but I will always stand by their right to express their views,” Brown added.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to answer a handful of questions from CNN Business, though the spokesperson did say the company would eventually release the full list of outlets it is using for its news tab. In a tweet, Brown knocked CNN and said “these are tough issues” to grapple with.

Brown’s focus on ideology instead of standards for accuracy and accountability is notable.

Over the last several days, Facebook executives have sidestepped concerns about Breitbart’s inclusion in its news section.

At last Friday’s launch event, Zuckerberg responded to a question about Breitbart’s inclusion by saying “you want to have content that represents different perspectives.”

And over the weekend, Adam Mosseri, the former head of Facebook’s news feed and the current head of Instagram, questioned on Twitter if people really wanted Facebook “to exclude news organizations based on their ideology.”

Those in the journalism field, including some conservatives, have strongly criticized Facebook for including Breitbart in its news section.

“Facebook’s choice is worse than embarrassing; it’s inexplicable,” Charlie Sykes, a conservative commentator and editor-in-chief of The Bulwark, told CNN Business. “Breitbart is a poster child for disinformation and hackery.”

Todd Gitlin, Columbia Journalism School Ph.D. chair and a longtime progressive, asked, “If Breitbart.com, which under Steve Bannon’s tutelage devoted itself to fraudulent inflammatory immigrant-hating claims, is ‘high quality,’ what’s low? Including Breitbart on [Zuckerberg’s] ‘news tab’ disgraces the name of news.”

In her post, Brown, a former CNN anchor, also defended Facebook for allowing political candidates to openly lie and mislead in ads on the company’s platform.

“Having spent most of my pre-Facebook career as a journalist covering politics, I have been astonished at the reaction by other journalists to Facebook’s decision not to police speech from political candidates,” Brown wrote. “I strongly believe it should be the role of the press to dissect the truth or lies found in political ads – not engineers at a tech company.”

Brown failed to note that while the issue has prompted criticism from journalists, it has also sparked outrage among Facebook’s own employees. Earlier this week, more than 200 employees reportedly signed onto a letter protesting the company’s ad policy.