Under pressure from governments and activist groups, Facebook has been expanding its mission to fact-check its content. Ever since “fake news” became the trendy worry – around the time of the 2016 election – social media companies have been threatened by political forces left and right, who made it clear that either the news is brought under control, or there would be consequences. “You’ve created these platforms, and now they are being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it – or we will,” one Facebook PR video highlights Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) telling the company at a congressional hearing.
The video presents “a behind-the-scenes look at Facebook’s fight against false news,” and one is clearly supposed to get the impression that the company, to perform crisis control, is scrambling to develop tools that will rein in misinformation on the site. But given that its business model has always been to collect and sell users’ information, this fact-checking endeavor appears to be nothing more than the next stage in the company’s movement toward greater control of those users. Facebook’s function has always been to capitalize on its users through manipulation – via advertising or news stories, what’s the difference?
Facebook recently announced that it is launching a fact-checking project in the U.K., adding to its existing efforts in dozens of countries, including the United States. The social media titan will team with fact-checking charity Full Fact to decide whether pictures, videos, and articles are true, false, or a mixture of the two; those deemed bogus will be pushed lower down on users’ news feeds, although not deleted.
Full Fact’s website projects a reasonable and professional image, assuring the public that it provides a valuable service, independent of outside influence. According to the charity, only pieces presenting themselves as fact-based reporting will be examined, and during the project:
“We’re going to focus on misinformation that could damage people’s health or safety, or undermine democratic processes — everything from dangerous cancer ‘cures’ to false stories spreading after terrorist attacks or fake content about voting processes ahead of elections.”
This isn’t the first time Facebook has coordinated with a third-party fact-checking organization, although the “reviews” have not always been stellar. The Guardian ran an article in December that claimed, “While some newsroom leaders said the relationship was positive, other partners said the results were unclear and that they had grown increasingly resentful of Facebook.”
Amusingly, one stated reason for the souring of relationships was the fact that Facebook had hired PR firms to badmouth billionaire globalist George Soros after he called the company a “menace to society.” Despite this public falling out, one may assume the rift was not permanent – for one, Soros’s Open Society Foundation is listed as a funder on Full Fact’s website.
“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,”…
“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” the paper quotes Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of fact-checking website and Facebook partner Snopes. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck …. They clearly don’t care.”
Of course, Snopes and other self-styled fact-checking organizations have been accused of bias and political agenda, but that isn’t the only issue involved here. Kim LaCapria, a former Snopes content manager and fact-checker, echoed that Facebook wanted the “appearance of trying to prevent damage without actually doing anything.” She claimed that Facebook had pushed for Snopes to discredit information that was unfavorable to its advertisers, saying that by that point, “You’re not doing journalism anymore. You’re doing propaganda.” Her claim was later denied by Facebook.
LaCapria was also unhappy that Facebook was paying Snopes for the service. “That felt really gross …. Facebook has one mission, and factchecking websites should have a completely different mission,” she said.
Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact, another Facebook fact-checking partner, has called the program a “public service,” saying, “Facebook is helping us identify questionable material.” Of course, she has much more to gain from saying so than two disgruntled former employees, as PolitiFact also gains financially from working with Facebook. While the organization has refused to disclose how much money they receive, Holan admitted that the cash injection “added to our overall sustainability.” Snopes also was sent an unsolicited check for $100,000 by Facebook for services rendered, according to David Mikkelson, the organization’s head.
Full Fact states that “Facebook will have no control over what we choose to check, what our factcheckers write, or what rating we give,” and Facebook has stated that its partners are “under no obligation to fact-check anything from the list” of potentially false stories provided by the company. This may be true, but according to Mikkelson, bounties have been placed on Facebook’s priority stories. Not to mention that fact that an organization’s success is always tied to the support of its funders.
Speaking of funding, let us return to Full Fact. The London-based organization has received approximately $92,000 from George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, $296,000 from Google, and $147,000 from the Omidyar Network, an investment firm owned by billionaire e-Bay founder and media mogul hopeful Pierre Omidyar. Interestingly, all of these donations have been earmarked for research into “automated factchecking,” a signpost to where the industry is headed.
Facebook itself is hard at work on an artificial intelligence algorithm to predict sources of false stories and eventually “detect even the most nuanced version of misinformation.” Meanwhile, Full Fact is developing AI to identify trends of who is repeating misinformation, as well as a program that will provide live tracking and instant answers to fact-checking requests. So, not only will our media consumption be more controlled, but also we will be able to police statements made by the people around us in real time. What better way to find truth in such a phony world as this?