Factually: Facebook hears from fact-checkers

It took Facebook some public and international controversy regarding its policies to open its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, and receive more than 100 fact-checkers.

Facebook’s first global Fact-Checking Partner Summit took place Tuesday and Wednesday as a completely off-the-record meeting — an opportunity for fact-checkers and company employees to exchange experiences and concerns regarding the present and the future of the Third Party Fact-Checking Program (3PFC).

Launched in late 2016 in the United States as an answer to the rise of misinformation on Facebook, 3PFC is now present in more than 50 countries. It allows fact-checkers to find and flag false content on Facebook, thereby decreasing its reach in the News Feed and notifying users who shared it. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)

The project has always had a clear policy that says politicians are exempt from that fact-checking process. But in the United States, that decision has recently generated controversy regarding political ads and ended up putting a lot of pressure on the project and also on fact-checkers. Some partners think the policy is not right. Others think it could stay up with small changes.

In other parts of the world — like Mexico, The Philippines and Brazil — 3PFC faces other issues. It is criticized as a way of censoring free speech, for example. So fact-checkers celebrated the opportunity to head to California and meet Facebook’s team.

In the Menlo Park meeting, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and Facebook Journalism Project launched The Fact-Checking Innovation Initiative, a program created to support the development of projects focused on new and creative ideas around fact-checking, misinformation and/or disinformation. Applicants will be able to submit proposals for grants between $15,000 and $70,000. Registrations will be open in mid-November.

Agence France Press (AFP) announced its expansion as a 3PFC partner in South America and will now start fact-checking content in Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. Those four countries are in tough political situations. Bolivia has just had its presidential election. Chile and Ecuador are under the effects of major street protests and Venezuela faces a humanitarian crisis under Nicolás Maduro’s government.

While the summit was happening, two articles popped up in the news and got fact-checkers talking in the hall.

One was published Tuesday by NBC and said, based on off-the-record sources, that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, remained “open to ideas about how to curb the spread of false ads (placed in the platform), including limiting the ability of candidates to target narrow groups of users.” According to NBC, the idea of not allowing politicians to segment their ads has been “a key sticking point” for the U.S. Federal Election Commission.

The second story that got fact-checkers’ attention Wednesday was “the confidential Facebook files leaked anonymously” to investigative journalist Duncan Campbell. The leaks comprise nearly 7,000 pages and were prepared for a long-running lawsuit in California state court between former Facebook app developer Six4three LLC and Facebook inc. The material is assembled as four large PDF files.

As far as fact-checkers could tell on Wednesday, there were no mentions of fact-checking, fake news, misinformation and/or disinformation on those documents.

. . .  technology

  • We’ve been watching the concerns about TikTok. Here are new takes from The New York Times and Quartz. On Tuesday, a Senate panel applied more scrutiny, in this case to its Chinese ownership, which Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said poses national security concerns.

  • The Knight Foundation announced more than $3.5 million in new grants to study the impact technology is having on democracy, and to develop solutions for policymakers. The funds will go to 22 universities, think tanks and advocacy organizations researching online disinformation, content moderation on social media, antitrust enforcement in big tech, and other tech policy topics.

  • Vice News uncovered a massive Airbnb scam that spans eight cities and nearly 100 property listings. The operation used fake reviews and bogus listings to collect thousands of dollars from users.

. . .  politics

  • A Canadian expert in disinformation, Marcus Kolga told the Edmonton Sun that the Russian government probably commissioned an article by the network Sputnik that highlighted a separatist movement in the province of Alberta during last month’s elections. “And it’s not just Canada where they try to do that,” Kolga said.

  • A new “anti-fake news” center in Thailand is the latest effort by the government to exert control over a sweeping range of content, Reuters reported. A group advocating for online freedom said the term “fake news” is being weaponized to censor dissidents in the Southeast Asian country.

  • The non-profit group Freedom House said in a report that governments around the world are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and monitor their citizens. “Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” Mike Abramowitz, the group’s president, told Agence France-Presse.

. . .  the future of news

  • BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman reported on fake “news” websites that are filled with old content but are getting questionable traffic as part of an ad scheme uncovered by an ad fraud consultancy SocialPuncher. The sites pretended to carry local news from Edmonton (Alberta), in Canada, as well as in Albany (New York) and Laredo (Texas) in the United States.

  • The online forum 8Chan, promoter of conspiracy theories and extremism, has been renamed and is operating as 8kun – or at least it was, briefly.  Gizmodo reported that one difference between 8Chan and 8kun is that the new platform does not include the /pol/ subforum, the board that multiple suspected gunmen have used to post their manifestos before committing deadly terrorist acts.

  • A new study on fact-checking says it “has a significantly positive overall influence on political beliefs, but the effects gradually weaken when using ‘truth scales,’ refuting only parts of a claim, and fact-checking campaign-related statements.”

The Quint, in India, published a funny and detailed Instagram video this week — not really a classic fact check — to reveal that Indian courts use 11 billion sheets of paper every year and this is probably a waste of energy.

The number is so high not only because India is a large country, with more than 1.3 billion inhabitants. But it’s also high because there is a specific — and very controversial — law that stipulates that judges, lawyers, prosecutors and other legal officers can only print on one side of each sheet when presenting a file or a case.

To show the impact of this law, The Quint did some math and found out that, if courts printed on both sides, India could probably save enough water to provide for all of Mumbai for 14 days — nonstop. More than 18 million people live in Mumbai.

What we liked: The video, titled “Paper wastage in Indian courts,” uses easy-to understand graphics to explain the math. It also puts a clear cost on a unique, under-analyzed law. Finally, the video has received many comments on social media and people seem to be willing to pressure politicians to change that ruling.

  1. Writing for The New York Times, researcher Brendan Nyhan said there has been a growth in hyperpartisan websites that pose as local news outlets.

  2. A fake cancer treatment, and a gross one at that, is being enthusiastically recommended among members of private groups on Facebook, BuzzFeed reported.

  3. Researchers have identified suspicious social media accounts used to undermine Hong Kong’s protest movement, Bloomberg reported, even after platforms took down a number of similar accounts in August.

  4. Macedonia has a plan to shed its reputation as an originator of “fake news.” It is teaching high schoolers what mis/disinformation is and how seriously it can impact people’s lives. The question is whether this will keep Macedonians from posting false content during the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign.

  5. Against all odds, fact-checking is flourishing in Venezuela. Cristina spent two days in Caracas and wrote about the work being done by the six fact-checking organizations currently active there.

  6. The University of California at Berkeley, in partnership with the U.S. military, has been working on a tool that detects manipulated videos such as deepfakes.

  7. Mark Cuban has thoughts about fact-checking on social media.

  8. Posts from a fake Twitter user posing as a BBC journalist were retweeted by a political candidate in the U.K.

  9. For The New York Times, Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote an interesting take about why he thinks Facebook won’t fact-check political ads on its platform.

  10. Don’t forget to apply to attend Global Fact 7 – the annual worldwide gathering of fact-checkers – in June. Find out more here.

That’s it for this week! Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to factually@poynter.org. And if this email was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here.

DanielSusan and Cristina

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