Facebook fact wars: The internal struggle between Facebook’s fact-checkers and the company itself

In the days following the 2016 United States presidential election, many were left wondering how the country had become so divided. Never before had the voters on either side of the aisle come to the polls with not only different opinions, but different facts upon which those opinions where based. This realization led to the ongoing period of reflection that still envelopes the country. News sources have not been impervious to such reflection, and have begun to look into the vetting process they currently employ with respect to the “news” they publish. Aside from obvious ethical and professional standards, the 2016 presidential election provided perhaps the most jarring example of the effect of inadequately vetted, partisan news.

One such news source that has received scrutiny is Facebook, Inc. The social media giant had to reconcile the fact that it had become a primary source of news for millions of individuals, a role for which it was decidedly ill-equipped. As a potential solution, Facebook launched a “global fact-checking initiative” in December 2016. This initiative involves, in part, employing groups of fact-checkers to review news published on the site. When an article has been deemed to be uncorroborated or misleading, the fact-checkers are tasked with publishing an explanatory article, notifying the user that posted the misleading article and ensuring the misleading article is then shown less prominently on the site.

Facebook currently has 43 fact-checking organizations across the world, covering news in 24 different languages. However, the fact-checkers themselves are uncertain as to whether they are having a material impact. Facebook requires fact-checkers to sign non-disclosure agreements, but this has not stopped many from anonymously speaking up about Facebook’s lackluster procedure with respect to the fact-checking process. Editors have reported feeling underutilized, and admitted that fact-checking, despite outward appearances, is not a priority for the Facebook brass. In fact, editors have noted that certain fact-checking groups cease operations when nearing the payment cap, which is a cap on the number of fact-checks for which Facebook has agreed to pay in a given month. This cap on explanatory articles results in a backlog from month-to-month, and the current cap is not nearly enough to provide a thorough fact-check of many of the articles posted to Facebook each month. Indeed, one fact-checker noted that its firm had nearly 500 articles in queue to be checked at the end of a certain month.

The current initiative will have to undergo an overhaul, especially when the number of articles to be reviewed are combined with articles posted to Facebook’s other networks, such as WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook is acutely aware of the shortcomings of the current process, but as Mark Zuckerberg and other executives begin to explore alternatives, it appears a solution to this Herculean task remains far off.