Identifying the truth is complicated," Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post last year, in the wake of the controversies surrounding the US Presidential election. Social media platforms have been extensively criticised for acting as a catalyst for the spread of fake news. Despite the brickbats, platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are upping their news game. Here's why.
Newer features are being added to enhance the reading experience for users, and publishers are being lured with subscription models and reader data.
Recently, Google News, which has been around since 2002, redesigned its desktop product - its first redesign in six years - to offer a cleaner interface, making browsing easier. "The new Google News interface offers more perspectives by showing more news pages on the homepage, showcasing related coverage and providing more contexts within story cards," says Dushyant Khare, Director, Global Partnerships, SEA & India, Google.
Facebook, meanwhile, is launching products to become more publisher-friendly. "We are building a tool to support subscriptions within Instant Articles and plan to start testing with a small group of partners later this year," says Saurabh Doshi, Head, Media Partnerships, Facebook.
According to reports, Google is working on tools that would support the subscription model and allow publishers to determine how many free clicks a Google user gets.
Both the companies are taking measures to curtail the spread of fake news, while also striving to become the bigger news destination. However, the fact remains that news is not a direct source of revenue for either of these companies. But news helps them achieve their larger goal of bringing traffic onto their sites.
"They just want to create a more wholesome bouquet; get people to stay on the platform longer than they would for search or for interaction," says Frank D'Souza, Leader - Entertainment & Media, PwC India.
While Google has the first mover advantage - it is a major source of traffic for most news publishers across the globe - Facebook, in the past few years, has emerged as a popular destination for news consumption. Some industry observers are of the view that Facebook has the potential to edge out Google as it offers interaction and sharing of content.
The recent Ogilvy Media Influence annual global survey of over 250 reporters and editors identified Facebook as "the number one gatekeeper for news", edging out legacy traditional media sources and significantly outpacing other social networks or digital platforms like Google and Twitter.
"Facebook is the destination where people share their lives and it is a natural destination for people to connect with colleagues and family. So Facebook has really become the way people get their news, and it has become a news destination for people," says Jennifer Risi, Worldwide Chief Communications Officer of Ogilvy.
However, Girish Menon, Partner at KPMG in India, believes social media sites haven't quite captured the news audience yet. "Share of audience in general for a Google product, people coming and searching on Google, is higher than for Facebook."
But the growing pace at which social media platforms are taking to news is noteworthy. Abhinandan Sekhri, CEO of digital news portal Newslaundry, agrees. "Social media will become more dominant since it will evolve and change through social interactions and community behaviour; publishers can change and evolve with it," he says.