Facebook has pledged to invest $100 million in the news industry at a time when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means that accurate reporting is more important than ever. $25 million will be provided in grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project, while the remaining $75 million will come in the form of “additional marketing spend” to worldwide news organizations.
Publishers are expected to be hit hard by the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The advertising revenue that many publishers rely on is being squeezed, as companies slash marketing budgets amidst financial uncertainty. Research firm eMarketer has lowered its growth projections for worldwide media ad spend by 3 percent, SearchEngineLand reports, while Reuters has reported that the virus could cost the US advertising industry billions of dollars in lost revenue.
At the same time, high-quality and accurate reporting is more important than ever, as misinformation about the virus spreads online. “If people needed more proof that local journalism is a vital public service, they’re getting it now,” Facebook says in its press release. The company has pledged to do its bit to remove the misinformation that’s posted on its platform, but the crisis is also putting pressure on its own moderation teams. There is so much misinformation that one fact-checking organization, Snopes, has been forced to scale back its routine content production or else risk overwhelming its staff.
Facebook says that it plans to concentrate its grants on the publishers that need them the most in the hardest hit countries in the world. It announced the first series of grants last week, when it said that it would be giving $5,000 to 50 local newsrooms across the US and Canada to cover “unexpected costs” associated with covering the viral outbreak.
The $100 million comes in addition to the $300 million Facebook pledged to spend on news programs, partnerships, and content at the beginning of 2019. Facebook said it planned to invest that $300 million over the course of three years. Later that year it launched a program to help local news organizations boost digital subscriptions, and also announced plans to spend £4.5 million on training local journalists in the UK.
Facebook says that usage of its services including private messaging and video calling are surging during the pandemic, as people self-isolate and connect with distant friends and family. However, Facebook is also seeing the same reduction in ad spending as other online businesses. “Our business is being adversely affected like so many others around the world,” it said in a blog post.