After facing months of criticism, Facebook has announced a plan to combat a small subset of misleading information. Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s VP of News Feed, announced on Thursday that the company would be releasing some new features to eliminate what he calls “the worst of the worst,” or “the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain.”
The problems for Facebook began earlier this year when the company fired its editorial news staff, replacing dozens of humans with algorithms designed to surface trending news in an objective way. Immediately, fake news began inundating the trending news module. But the problem goes beyond trending news. Facebook previously admitted that scammers have bought Facebook ads designed to look like links to real news (the company no longer allows this practice). Mosseri says scammers have also used URL redirects to make it look like their fake news came from legitimate news sites.
A new suite of tools will allow independent fact-checkers to investigate stories that Facebook users or algorithms have flagged as potentially fake. Stories will be mostly flagged based on user feedback. But Mosseri also noted that the company will investigate stories that become viral in suspicious ways, such as by using a misleading URL. The company is also going to flag stories that are shared less than normal. “We’ve found that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way,” Mosseri wrote.
Mosseri indicated that the company’s new efforts will only target scammers, not sites that push conspiracies like Pizzagate. “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 told BuzzFeed. In other words, if a publisher genuinely believes fake news to be true, it will not be fact-checked.
Once a story is flagged, it will go into a special queue that can only be accessed by signatories to the International Fact-Checkers Network Code of Principles, a project of nonprofit journalism organization Poynter. IFCN Code of Principles signatories in the US will review the flagged stories for accuracy. If the signatory decides the story is fake news, a “disputed” warning will appear on the story in News Feed. The warning will also pop up when you share the story.
The IFCN, which is a non-profit organization, has had to hustle to keep up with all the attention and traffic that Facebook is about to throw to its code signatories. So far, there are only seven signatories to the Code in the US, including Snopes, ABC News, and Climate Feedback. IFCN Director Alexios Mantzarlis said his organization has done a “desk review” of each before establishing “a more formal vetting mechanism behind the code of principles.” Signatories must show that they are devoting significant time to fact-checking the news.
Any group that becomes a signatory to the IFCN Code now becomes a de-facto news gatekeeper for Facebook, where more than half of Americans get their news. A “disputed” flag on a story that’s gone viral might also help the fact-checking organization garner traffic, given that the flag will link to the source of the fact-check. “[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 told BuzzFeed.
ABC News and the Associated Press, known largely as news sources rather than fact-checking organizations, managed to get on the IFCN Code list earlier this week, just before Facebook made its announcement. IFCN’s Mantzarlis says that any other groups that want to be signatories will have to wait a while to be added. “While the pilot phase of Facebook’s program unrolls, aspiring new signatories can express their interest through our online form but will not be vetted before a definitive vetting system has been established,” he wrote on Poynter. He has not yet announced a timeline for when the new vetting system will be ready.
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