Years ago, Facebook fired its Trending News team and replaced them with algorithms after a Gizmodo article featured former workers claiming the site discriminated against conservative news. Then, Facebook tried and failed to suppress hoax news sites and propaganda with a series of methods designed to avoid the ire of conservatives, such as third-party fact checkers and yet more algorithms. In the meantime, its so-called "fake news" problem grew worse than ever.
Now it looks as though Facebook is back to hiring staff to help it sort the problem out directly. Per a report in Business Insider, as of Thursday, Facebook had two contract positions for "news credibility specialists" open on its job site. The jobs are based out of Menlo Park, California, where the site is headquartered, and one of them lists fluent Spanish as a requirement:
"We're seeking individuals with a passion for journalism, who believe in Facebook's mission of making the world more connected," one of the two listings reads. It continues: "As a member of the team, you'll be tasked with developing a deep expertise in Facebook's News Credibility Program. You'll be conducting investigations against predefined policies."
Facebook would ask the specialists to help create a list of credible news organisations. That list could be used for various features on the site, from the newsfeed to its advertising system.
The listings have since been removed, but it's possible they will play not just a role in the fight against fake news but enforcing compliance with the site's new rules on political ad transparency.
"We're working to effectively identify and differentiate news and news sources across our platform," company spokesman Adam Isserlis told Business Insider.
Just a few months ago in January, the company was publicly claiming to be so averse to having the news-credibility problem in its hands - and so sceptical of the objectivity of third parties - that it proposed an absurdly stupid plan to simply have Facebook users take surveys on which news sources they believed were credible.
In the months since, reports have suggested their third-party fact checkers are of questionable usefulness, and its other solutions have amounted to maybe just linking to other news sources below articles it has flagged as potentially fake.
These roundabout solutions were apparently intended to avoid the scrutiny of conservatives, who of course found excuses to get mad anyway and pressure Facebook into a bizarre audit.
Since Facebook makes editorial decisions constantly but just pretends it's the invisible hand of the algorithm at work, it's probably for the best that it has come back around to having actual staff make these determinations. Yet University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill political communications professor Daniel Kreiss said the effort is likely to be undermined by Facebook's lack of transparency:
"They're always playing this editorial role," Kreiss said. "My concern throughout has been that they haven't acknowledged they're playing this role, they aren't transparent about how they're making those decisions, and because of that, they aren't accountable for the decisions they do make."
Facebook is currently mired in a whole mess of other problems, including its Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal and its still-ongoing apology tour, and it's clearly ready to move on from all the attention it's received since 2016.
But its problem with false content won't be going away any time soon, so hopefully this latest move is at least a minor concession to reality instead of another fumble.