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Facebook includes ‘alt-right’ website Breitbart in ‘high quality’ news section despite repeated controversies

Inclusion comes amid criticism of tech company's relationship with right-wing groups

Conrad Duncan
Saturday 26 October 2019 16:50 BST
Mark Zuckerberg stumbles over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's questions about white supremacy during Congress hearing

Facebook’s section dedicated to “high-quality news” will include far-right website Breitbart News as one of its approved publishers, despite criticism of inaccurate reporting by the publication.

Breitbart, which aligned itself as “the platform of the alt-right” under the leadership of Steve Bannon, is reportedly one of about 200 publishers who will receive money by appearing on Facebook News.

The section has been introduced to counter criticism of Facebook over misinformation on its flagship app and the company profiting from journalism without paying for it.

However, the inclusion of Breitbart, a publication that has been criticised for repeatedly inaccurate and incendiary reporting, has raised concerns about Facebook’s editorial judgement.

In 2018, Wikipedia editors voted to ban the publication as a source of fact in its articles “due to its unreliability”.

During the 2016 presidential election, Breitbart promoted a widely-debunked conspiracy theory about senior Democratic Party figures being involved in a child sex ring and spread baseless claims that Huma Abedin, a Hillary Clinton aide, was involved with terrorism.

It has also repeatedly published anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views, as well as publishing journalists who deny climate change.

In 2017, it published a false story claiming an illegal immigrant was arrested in connection with the 2017 Northern California wildfires, prompting Sonoma County’s sheriff department to condemn the publication.

Facebook’s decision to include Breitbart comes as the company is facing intense criticism from the left and right of US politics.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s cheif executive, has long-battled allegations of liberal bias on the social media platform from conservatives, particularly from Donald Trump, who has claimed it suppresses right-leaning views.

However, it has also faced criticism for its reluctance to crack down on white nationalism and far-right hate on its platform.

Earlier this month, Mr Zuckerberg was criticised by liberal commentators for hosting informal talks and off-the-record dinners with conservative journalists, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Facebook has also been criticised in recent weeks for its policy decision to not fact check political adverts.

That decision has led to politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, to accuse it of allowing misinformation to spread ahead of the 2020 election.

During a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Mr Zuckerberg was questioned by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about his company’s relationship with right-wing outlets.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez asked him: “Can you explain why you named the Daily Caller, a well-documented publication with ties to white supremacists as an official fact checker for Facebook?”

Mr Zuckerberg responded that Facebook does not appoint independent fact checkers and uses an organisation called the Independent Fact Checking Network.

“So you would say that white supremacist-tied publications meet a rigorous standard for fact checking?” the congresswoman asked.

“I would say we’re not the one assessing that standard,” Mr Zuckerberg replied.

When the asked about the inclusion of Breitbart at a Facebook News launch event on Friday, the chief executive declined to comment on individual firms.

However, he said: “I do think that part of having this be a trusted source is that it needs to have a diversity of, basically, views in there.

“I think you want to have content that represents different perspectives but is doing so in a way that complies with the standards that we have for this.”

Facebook News was rolled out to about 200,000 users in the US as part of a “test” on Friday.

A full list of the publishers working on the section has not been released - although established publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Bloomberg are included.

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