‘Way too little, way too late’: Facebook’s fact checkers say effort is failing

Journalists opposing spread of fake news raise concerns over possible conflicts of interest and say site has refused to disclose required data

Journalists working for Facebook say the social media site’s fact-checking tools have largely failed and that the company has exploited their labor for a PR campaign.

Several fact checkers who work for independent news organizations and be associated with Facebook told the Guardian that they feared the relations with the technology firm, some of which are paid, have created a conflict of interest, constructing it harder for the news outlets to scrutinize and criticize Facebook’s role in spreading misinformation.

The reporters also lamented that Facebook had refused to disclose data on its efforts to stop the dissemination of fake news. The journalists are speaking out one year after the company launched the collaboration in response to outrage over revelations that social media platforms had widely promoted fake news and propaganda during the course of its US presidential election.

Facebook has since revealed that it facilitated Russia’s efforts to interfere with US politics, allowing divisive political ads and propaganda that reached 126 m Americans.

” I don’t feel like it’s working at all. The fake info is still running viral and spreading rapidly ,” said one journalist who does fact-checks for Facebook and, like others interviewed for this piece, was not authorized to speak publicly due to the continuing partnership with the company.” It’s really difficult to hold[ Facebook] accountable. They think of us as doing their work for them. They have a big problem, and they are leaning on other organizations to clean up after them .”

Facebook announced to much hype last December that it was partnering with third-party fact checkers- including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org- to publicly flag fake news so that a “disputed” tag would alert users about sharing debunked content. A Guardian review this year found that the fact-checks seemed to be mostly ineffective and that “disputed” tags weren’t working as intended.

Now, some of the fact checkers are raising concerns, saying the lack of internal statistics on their work has impeded the project and that it is unclear if the corporation is taking the spread of propaganda seriously.

Another fact-checking source said it was rare to see the fact-checks actually lead to a “disputed” tag on Facebook, raising questions about how the tool was functioning. Fact checkers said they had queries about how often the tags were placed on articles, what effect they had on the content and what sites were most often targeted- but said that Facebook had not provided information.

” We’re sort of in the dark. We don’t know what is actually happening ,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, which verifies Facebook’s third-party fact checkers.

He said he appreciated that there” are a lot of people at Facebook who really care about this” but, he added,” the level of information that is being handed out is altogether insufficient … This is potentially the largest real-life experiment in countering misinformation in history. We could have been having an enormous amount of information and data .”

A Facebook spokesperson said that once an article had been labeled as false, its future “impressions” dropped by 80%.

” Our work with third-party fact-checkers is not just meant to educate people about what has been disputed- the committee is also helps us better understand what might be false and demonstrate it lower in News Feed ,” the spokesperson said in an email, adding that the data informed its algorithm to” more quickly and accurately detect future false narratives “.

Facebook has also launched a” related articles” initiative and other features meant to promote articles about similar topics, including reports from fact checkers, the spokesperson said:” We’re giving people the information they need to induce informed decisions about whether or not to read, trust, or share .”

One of the fact checkers said it seemed clear that Facebook was opposed to internally hiring large numbers of journalists and experts to do the difficult fact-checking work are required to clamp down on fake news in a meaningful way.

” The relationship they have with fact-checking organisations is way too little and route too late. They should really be managing this internally. They should be hiring armies of moderators and their own fact-checkers .”

Some fact checkers said they also felt the paid its relation with Facebook were creating a conflict, in effect silencing those in the best position to investigate the route the platform facilitates fake news.

” By offering this fund, which journalistic outlets urgently require, it’s weakening our ability to do any fact-checking of these disinformation purveyors like Facebook ,” said one third-party fact checker.” They are basically buying good PR by paying us .”

The journalist noted that Facebook users could still easily buy ads without scrutiny. Facebook” have been and will continue to take fund to spread disinformation “, the reporter said, adding:” They’re trying their best not to affect their bottom line .”

Aaron Sharockman, executive director of PolitiFact, said some of the fact checkers had been frustrated with the limits of the tools , noting that fake news writers can easily set their debunked content on different websites or links, permitting the articles to continue posting without “disputed” tags.

” They are able very easily to spread misinformation to different URLs ,” he said.

While Sharockman said he would also like to see more transparency from Facebook, he said he was pleased that the company was continuing to collaborate with journalists:” I think to go from nothing to where we are now is good progress .”

Recent research has also raised fundamental questions about the efficiency of tags labeling disputed tales. A Yale University survey found that the tag had a minimal impact on whether a user believed a headline was true, and that the presence of the tags could make users more likely to believe other fake narratives are true, simply because they did not have the tag.

” It is possible that it is doing more damage than good, and it’s unlikely that it’s doing much good ,” said David Rand, a psychology professor and co-author of the study.

( Facebook responded that the research was not based on data from real Facebook users and noted that it was an” opt-in examine” based on paid survey respondents .)

Facebook also recently faced hot for a test that prompted comments with the word “fake” to appear at the top of some users’ feeds under news articles, which some critics said just caused more disarray. At the same day, conspiracy hypothesis and fake news about two mass shootings have spread on numerous social networks, in some cases leading to online abuse of victims and survivors.

In the case of an article that falsely claimed the shooter was linked to anti-fascist groups, multiple fact checkers debunked the piece.

It was still shared more than 260,000 days on Facebook.

Contact the author: sam.levin @theguardian. com

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