MANILA, Philippines – Facebook on Thursday, December 13, responded to an article by The Guardian that puts into question the effectiveness of Facebook’s fact-checking partnership with news organizations, which include the likes of Snopes, the Associated Press, PolitiFact, and Rappler.
Meredith Brooks, Facebook’s head of news integrity partnerships, accused The Guardian of presenting “several inaccuracies” and criticized the piece for supposedly being “based primarily on the account of a single fact-checker who hasn’t been involved with the Facebook fact-checking program for 6 months.” She also claimed that Facebook provided information to The Guardian but “they chose not to include all of it.”
The primary identified source of The Guardian story is Brooke Binkowski, the former managing editor of Snopes, long-known as a website that debunked internet myths even before disinformation became a big issue on the platform.
Binkowski didn’t mince words, saying that they were “essentially used for crisis PR,” accusing the program as merely a means to make Facebook look like they’re doing something in light of the huge wave of disinformation and platform manipulation. She also clamed that the platform is siding with authoritarian governments as that would be advantageous to their business model.
“I strongly believe that they are spreading fake news on behalf of hostile foreign powers and authoritarian governments as part of their business model,” Binkowski said.
But Contrary to Facebook’s statement that the piece is based on just one account, The Guardian did have other sources – identified as journalists and newsroom leaders – although most of them were anonymous. Their criticisms range from lack of transparency from Facebook, the hiring of a PR firm to target critics by associating them with Jewish philanthropist George Soros, to perceptions that there are ethical lines being crossed by having a news outfit associate itself with Facebook.
The biggest accusation that Facebook addressed in its response is Binkowski’s claim that Facebook was “pushing reporters to prioritize debunking misinformation that affected Facebook advertisers.” She thought this crossed the line, saying: “You’re not doing journalism anymore. You’re doing propaganda.”
To this, Facebook’s Brooks said, “Contrary to a claim in the story, we absolutely do not ask fact-checkers to prioritize debunking content about our advertisers.” Facebook explained the process again in its response, adding that fact-checkers are under no obligation to fact-check anything from the list of posts flagged by its machine learning system, and can also rate stories that Facebook hasn’t added to the list.
The article also mentioned that Binkowski, and another source, former Snopes employee Kim LaCapria ,are now working on a new fact-checking website, truthorfiction.com.
Two other editors interviewed in the article were less critical. One is Snopes founder and CEO David Mikkelson, who told The Guardian that he “did not share Binkowski’s concerns about the Facebook partnership,” and that he felt that it has had “a minimal impact on how Snopes operates.”
Politifact editor Angie Drobnic Holan called the partnership a “public service,” and that Facebook has been helpful in “identifying questionable material.” The revenue is also adding to their overall sustainability, she said.
However, Holan did say that she too was unsure if the program is actually working. “Is it reducing fake content on Facebook? I don’t know, I can’t tell. Can Facebook tell? You would assume they could. I don’t have any way of knowing,” Holan told The Guardian.
Facebook said that it would begin sharing quarterly reports on the impact of the work of the news partners in early 2019. The numbers should speak volumes on whether the program is just for show, as Binkowski had claimed – or if it had truly made impact. – Rappler.com