Facebook has started rolling out its third-party fact-checking tool in the fight against fake news, alerting users to “disputed content”.
The site announced in December it would be partnering with independent fact-checkers to crack down on the spread of misinformation on its platform.
The tool was first observed by Facebook users attempting to link to a story that falsely claimed hundreds of thousands of Irish people were brought to the US as slaves.
Titled “The Irish slave trade – the slaves that time forgot”, the story published by the Rhode Island entertainment blog Newport Buzz was widely shared on the platform in the lead-up to St Patrick’s Day on 17 March.
For some users, attempting to share the story prompts a red alert stating the article has been disputed by both Snopes.com and the Associated Press. Clicking on that warning produces a second pop-up with more information “About disputed content”.
“Sometimes people share fake news without knowing it. When independent fact-checkers dispute this content, you may be able to visit their websites to find out why,” it reads. “Only fact-checkers signed up to Poynter’s non-partisan code of principles are shown.”
The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) is hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The IFCN code promotes excellence in non-partisan and transparent fact-checking for journalism.
The pop-up also links to Snopes.com, AP and Facebook’s official help page. Choosing to ignore the warning and click “publish” prompts another pop-up, reiterating that its accuracy was “disputed”. Clicking “post anyway” publishes the link, but it appears in others’ timelines as “Disputed by Snopes.com and Associated Press”.
Attempts by the Guardian in San Francisco to publish the Newport Buzz story triggered the tool, but not in Sydney or London. It was also possible to flag it to Facebook as a “fake news story” through the usual reporting process.
It is not unusual for Facebook to trial new features on a small number of users before applying them across the board. Facebook declined to comment on the roll-out of the tool, but its help centre page on how news is “marked as disputed on Facebook” confirmed “this feature isn’t available to everyone yet”.
On 16 March, Associated Press published a “Fact Check” on the so-called “Irish slave trade” that rejected “the false articles, trending on social media”. It was billed as “part of an ongoing Associated Press effort to fact-check claims in suspected false news stories”.
Liam Hogan, a librarian and historian based in Limerick City, Ireland, who had been tracing the “‘Irish slaves’ meme” since 2015, tweeted that “Trump supporters … [were] losing their minds” about the alert.
One right-wing blogger shared a screenshot of the alert on Twitter with the comment “Facebook’s pre-Thoughtcrime Unit appears to be up and running”.
Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large of conspiracy theory website Infowars, was critical of Snopes’ involvement in flagging disputed content, claiming: “Snopes is a bias [sic], far-left outfit. It is not a responsible ‘fact-checker’.”
Concern about the impact of fake news on social media escalated after the US election, prompting Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to confirm that the platform took misinformation seriously and was working to combat its spread.
In mid-December, Facebook announced it would begin flagging fake news stories with the help of users and five independent fact-checkers: ABC News, AP, FactCheck.org, Politifact and Snopes.
If enough of Facebook’s users reported a story as fake, the social network would pass it onto these third parties to scrutinise.
In a post on his own Facebook page announcing the changes, Zuckerberg admitted the business has a “greater responsibility” to the public than the average “distributor of news”.
“We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse – and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed,” he wrote.
- This article was amended on 22 March 2017 to clarify a reference to the IFCN code.
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