Technology & Science

Facebook's fact-checking program only a partial solution to disinformation, report says

A report from U.K. non-profit Full Fact finds that Facebook's new fact-checking program is a useful tool — but doesn't got far enough in combating disinformation.

U.K. non-profit has been test driving the platform’s fact-checking system for 6 months

Facebook introduced its fact-checking program, which get third-party support in debunking false information that spreads on the social media site. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

Can certain bubble bath products induce labour? Is popping a tampon into an open wound a good idea? These are just some of the questions a U.K. non-profit had to answer while test driving Facebook's fact-checking program over the last six months, according to a report released Tuesday.

While the program is a useful tool for fighting disinformation, it has room for improvement and is only one of many strategies needed, according to the report from Full Fact, an independent fact-checking charity. 

"It is one effective way of combating disinformation on Facebook, but it is only one part of an effective response," said Will Moy, the organization's chief executive. "If this was all Facebook was doing, it would not be enough." 

Launched in the United States in 2016, Facebook's program partners with country-specific, third-party fact checkers who are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network. These partners are enlisted to review and label content on the social media site, which has an average of 2.41 billion monthly active users.

Fact-checkers can label content using a number of categories, including "false," "mixture" (a mix of inaccurate and accurate information), "true," "satire" and "opinion." Facebook will then append the fact check to any post sharing the original information, as well as provide a warning to anyone trying to share it. If content is labelled "false," Facebook will reduce how widely that content is distributed.

If you try to share a post on Facebook that has been fact-checked, the site generates a warning and provides a link to its check. (Screengrab/Facebook)

The fact-checking program is now active in 40 countries and regions, including Canada, where Facebook has enlisted AFP to fact-check content

In its report, Full Fact makes a number of recommendations to Facebook to improve the system, such as expanding it to include content on Instagram, and adding more label options for claims that are unsubstantiated or need more context. 

During its review, Full Fact focused on fact-checking information having to do with health and safety. But Moy said political misinformation is even harder to combat because it often includes a mix of opinion, political discourse and fact.

The organization also recommends that governments do more to publish factual, authoritative information that fact checkers can cite when debunking claims online. In the claim about the bubble bath inducing labour, for example, the group had to go through 13 different organizations in order to verify that the product posed no risk

"In a world where we all have thousands of sources of information and it's harder than ever to know what to trust, we need official sources that are answering the questions people have," Moy said.

"We think that's a challenge for governments. They need to fill the information vacuum, because otherwise it will be filled with harmful and false information."


Have you spotted something fishy online? Send your disinformation news tips to kaleigh.rogers@cbc.ca

About the Author

Kaleigh Rogers

Senior Reporter

Kaleigh Rogers is a senior reporter with CBC news covering disinformation online.

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