Facebook offers insights for HK online community news outlets

May 07, 2019 17:27
Facebook focuses on three main categories of local community news: local crime, court news and obituaries. Photo: Reuters

Last year, Facebook announced that it would cut down on the dissemination of hard news, and return to its original intention of building an online community news network that truly belongs to individual users.

Over the past 16 months, the global social media giant has been working aggressively to promote local community news.

What is interesting about Facebook’s new program is that quite a number of district-based and community organizations in Hong Kong have actually been, over the past few years, pursuing similar initiatives as part of their campaign efforts for the District Council elections scheduled for November.

So what kind of approach the mighty Facebook has adopted when it comes to choosing and editing news material as well as forwarding community news to its users?

More importantly, can local online news outlets in Hong Kong draw any useful insight from Facebook’s way of running community news?

Judging from the arrangements Facebook has already made so far, the company has “defined” three main categories of local community news: local crime, court news and obituaries, which make up more than half of the total number of local news stories the company is currently disseminating.

Most of the content for these news stories is extracted by Facebook users themselves from the local police and court websites, as well as draft obituaries prepared by funeral homes.

Once photos have been added to these news stories, they are uploaded to social media, then selected by Facebook’s own automatic news editing system.

“Crime news” focuses on local traffic accidents, missing persons, robberies and drug trafficking.

However, apart from the three main news categories, Facebook is also covering other types of local news such as highlights of local events, new shop openings and lists of schools that have won prizes.

Yet at present, the biggest criticism made by the American media against Facebook’s community news coverage service is that while it is purely providing information for readers, it has failed to provide any direction in which citizens can improve their own communities.

In the meantime, some have also slammed Facebook for being a lot slower than local TV networks when it comes to providing local news and community information.

On some occasions, certain news stories only appeared on Facebook as long as three days after they had already been covered by local radio or TV networks!

The main reason why Facebook is running local news so sluggishly is that the company has gone to great lengths to scrutinize news content which it has received out of concern that some of these news stories may have obvious political leanings, such as “white versus colored people crime rates”.

Moreover, Facebook is working painstakingly to avoid fake news, which explains why it takes so long for the company to update its community news.

In comparison, some online district-based news outlets in Hong Kong won’t hesitate for a second to demonstrate their own political stance, and some of them mount relentless attacks against political rivals.

However, such an aggressive approach would probably only further fuel the “echo chamber effect” in the cyber world.

In fact, the availability of information and news about what’s hot and what’s not in the local community can generate more likes from netizens. The key is how to make known your stance through your choice of news material.

For example, a community news platform that focuses on introducing new eateries and shopping discounts has subtly taken a stand that is fundamentally different from that of an online news group that promotes urban greening and community gardening, while being able to draw attention from centrist voters at the same time.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 1

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor