A senior Facebook exec defended the firm’s decision to include Breitbart News in its ‘high quality’ news tab and got shredded by critics

Instagram boss Adam Mosseri waded into a messy media debate on Sunday about whether his firm Facebook should include stories from far-right news outlet Breitbart in its all-new news tab.

Facebook News is a new section on the core Facebook social network which displays articles from handpicked publishers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and others. Facebook is thought to be paying publishers for their content and has described its partners as producers of high-quality news.

But the list of publishers includes the right-wing and deeply controversial publication Breitbart News. That provoked a firestorm of criticism over the weekend as journalists and media critics voiced indignation at being lumped in with a publication associated with the far-right.

Mosseri, who is one of Facebook's most senior execs, defended the firm's decision to include Breitbart.

Mosseri wrote on Sunday, in response to a critique by New York Times journalist Charlie Wurzel: "Two things to consider: (1) do you really want platform as big as Facebook embracing a political ideology? And (2) not as important, and this is an honest question, why such a different reaction to Breitbart being Apple News partner?"

Daily Beast editor Noah Shachtman responded: "Promoting the political outfit which championed the 'alt-right' *is* embracing a political ideology, Adam."

But Mosseri doubled down. "I'm not defending Breitbart," he wrote. "I'm asking if you really want a platform of our scale to make decisions to exclude news organizations based on their ideology? Put another way, do you care more about advancing your views than preserving freedom for diverse views to be on platforms?"

Mosseri's talking point isn't a new one. Tech platforms have generally shied from anything that looks like an editorial decision, claiming that they are neutral and not responsible for policing content. And it can be a seductive argument.

And he is right that the comparative response to Breitbart's inclusion in Apple News was more muted.

Still, multiple reporters and critics took issue with Mosseri's description of Breitbart as a news organization.

Journalist and Columbia Journalism Review writer Mathew Ingram wrote: "I mean, if the organization's ideology includes white supremacy and violent racism, then yes, I do want you to exclude it from your "trusted sources" list. Not sure why this is so hard."

Prominent media critic Jay Rosen added: "Stop treating us like idiots, Adam. No one inside or outside Facebook believes that Breitbart is on that list for any reason other than its ideology. FB thought it needed to show how even-handed it can be. Including Breitbart does the trick. That is a decision based on ideology."

In a later tweet, Mosseri added: "I don't even want Breitbart to be part of Facebook News."

He continued: "I simply asked if it was more important to get your way than to be default open to speech? The stakes are so high it just might be, but I believe it's worth asking the question."

Breitbart's former executive chairman is Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor and lynchpin of the alt-right. He described Breitbart as "a platform for the alt-right", and the news outlet was exposed by BuzzFeed News for smuggling white nationalist ideas into the mainstream. The publication has published articles variously stating that women on birth control were less attractive, criticising gay rights, and scaremongering about Muslims.

Business Insider has contacted Facebook for comment.

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