Facebook today announced several initiatives to help reduce the spread of fake news, and a major element involves giving fact-checking organizations unprecedented prominence in the News Feed.
The largest social network in the world is partnering with organizations that have signed on to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) fact-checkers’ code of principles to enable them to verify selected links being shared on Facebook and have those fact-checks attached to the original link. This is the first time Facebook has given third parties special placement in the News Feed, which is the biggest single referrer of traffic to news websites in the United States and a huge traffic driver in other parts of the world. This move comes after Facebook faced intense scrutiny for the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platform during the election.
“Symbolically, this is huge,” Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the IFCN, told BuzzFeed News when asked about the significance of this partnership for fact-checkers.
He also cautioned that “we're going to have to wait and see how the solutions announced by Facebook work in practice and how they are scaled up worldwide to determine what significance this has for fact-checking and the battle against fake news.”
Adam Mosseri, the VP of product management for News Feed, told BuzzFeed News Facebook is not paying the checking organizations for their participation, but said their sites could benefit from the additional traffic that this new level of exposure could bring.
He also said this and the other new initiatives — which involve a tweak to the News Feed ranking algorithm, easier ways for users to report false content, and new ways to prevent scammers from making money from completely fake news — come in response to concerns about the spread of misinformation on Facebook.
Facebook is initially focused on attacking “the worst of the worst” of fake news, according to Mosseri. He defined that as “clear hoaxes that are intentionally false and usually spread by spammers for financial gain.”
“Fake news is something we have were looking at before the last month or two, but I would say that the urgency around fake news has definitely increased given the feedback we received from the community,” Mosseri told BuzzFeed News.
How It Works
Here’s how the partnership works and how it will change how some links look in your News Feed: Participating partners will have access to a special online queue that will show links Facebook determined may be suitable for a fact-check. Links can end up in the queue because users have reported them as false, the viral nature of the link warrants a closer look, the source of the link is “masquerading as a news site,” or, for example, a lot of comments say the story is false or misleading. One or multiple partners can fact-check a link.
If checkers rate the content of the link as false, the resulting fact-check(s) will be attached to the link in News Feed, thereby alerting users to potential factual issues. So-called disputed links will also have their reach adversely affected in News Feed, according to Mosseri.
This is what a disputed piece of content will look like in News Feed:
“[The fact-checkers] can dispute an article and link to their explanation and then provide context on Facebook so people and the community can decide for themselves whether they want to trust an article or share it,” Mosseri said.
The queue of checkable links is already operational and at least some participating partners have begun submitting their articles to be attached to disputed content.
Concerns Over Bias
Conservatives in the United States have over the years criticised fact-checking organizations for having a liberal bias. The owner of a large hyperpartisan conservative Facebook page and website recently told BuzzFeed News he thinks Facebook as an organization also has a liberal bias.
Mosseri emphasized that this initial partnership is focused on purely fake news, and not on checking claims from politicians or wading into partisan disputes.
“Fake news means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but we are specifically focused on the worst of the worst — clear intentional hoaxes,” he said.
Aaron Sharockman, the executive director of PolitiFact, told BuzzFeed News that his and other checking sites often face accusations of bias and said they focus on making their work as transparent as possible so readers can make up their own minds.
“I think that at some level you are never going to be able to satisfy certain critics, particularly very partisan ones,” he said. “At PolitiFact we’ve been doing this nine years and have published 13,000 fact-checks and we have heard criticism of perceived bias from the left and from the right.”
He said he expected Facebook to take heat for aligning with fact-checkers, but credited the company with taking steps to address the spread of fake news.
“They’re sticking their neck out a little bit and I think they’re gonna have to stick it out a little bit more because there are so many falsehoods flowing through Facebook feeds that Facebook is going to be very busy attacking these issues,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mantzarlis expects the partnership will result in a huge increase of applications to sign on to the IFCN’s code.
“I imagine that inundated may be an understatement,” he said. “But if this decision by Facebook leads to a surge in genuine fact-checking projects, so much the better.”
In preparation for that deluge, and as a result of the new prominence checking organizations will receive in Facebook, the IFCN is reworking its vetting process.
“We’re now adapting the process to set up a vetting process and ensure compliance,” he said. “Aspiring signatories will have to go through that process. Existing signatories will also be vetted and if they don't meet the criteria, will be delisted.”
He also emphasized that signing onto the IFCN code is just the minimum requirement to be included in the Facebook checking project.
“First, it is important to note that Facebook decides which fact-checkers to include; the IFCN code is just the ‘minimum condition,’” he said in an email.
In response to a follow-up question about how organizations will be approved for the third-party fact-checking program, a Facebook spokesperson said participants “must be signatories” of the IFCN code. As of this writing, six US-based organizations have signed on: the Associated Press, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, Snopes, the Washington Post, and ABC News. The last was only added as a signatory two days ago, and AP joined the day of the announcement.
Mantzarlis said ABC News applied early last week. Its website lists two stories for its Fact or Fake feature. AP has been publishing fact-checks for several years.
Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.
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