Facebook rolls out fact-checking operation to UK

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Social network brings in independent charity in attempt to tackle misinformation


Posts, links and videos flagged as false will be marked as such, but users will not be stopped from sharing or reading any content.
Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook’s fact-checking operation is launching in the UK, with independent fact-checking charity Full Fact selected to be the first British publisher to review and rate the accuracy of content on the social network.

Posts, links and videos that have been flagged as false will be marked as such to users, and people will be warned if a post they are about to share has been found to be false – but they will not be stopped from sharing or reading any content, false or not.

However, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm does intervene to artificially demote false content, ensuring that it reaches fewer people than it would otherwise.

“People don’t want to see false news on Facebook, and nor do we,” said Sarah Brown, a training and news literacy manager for Facebook. “We’re delighted to be working with an organisation as reputable and respected as Full Fact to tackle this issue. By combining technology with the expertise of our fact-checking partners, we’re working continuously to reduce the spread of misinformation on our platform.”

Since its launch in the US, Facebook’s fact-checking programme has received mixed reviews.It has been praised for attempting to tackle the spread of misinformation on the platform, and particularly for Facebook’s decision to give fact-checkers’ findings real weight in its algorithmic promotion.

But the social network has also been criticised for its unwillingness to pay for fact-checking, which relies on users to flag content to third parties, who then check the veracity of factual claims. More general concerns have been raised over the effectiveness of the programme at large: the worst falsehoods often propagate faster than fact-checkers can keep up, and increasing evidence suggests that the labelling aspect of the fact-checking – as opposed to the algorithmic tweaks – can serve to promote, rather than suppress, false claims, as readers take the label as proof of a partisan effort to censor speech.

Facebook has also faced criticism over its choice of fact-checking partners in the US, supplementing neutral authorities such as Snopes and the Associated Press with partisan outlets such as the conservative publication Weekly Standard, leading to conflicts about the truthfulness of fact checks.

In the UK, however, Full Fact will initially be the sole fact-checking partner. Will Moy, the charity’s director, welcomed Facebook’s decision, saying: “Fact-checking can take hours, days or weeks, so nobody has time to properly check everything they see online. But it’s important somebody’s doing it – because online misinformation, at its worst, can seriously damage people’s safety or health.

“There’s no magic pill to instantly cure the problem, but this is a step in the right direction. It will let us give Facebook users the information they need to scrutinise false or misleading stories themselves and hopefully limit their spread – without stopping them sharing anything they want to.”

The news comes shortly after a study published in the journal Science revealed that Facebook users over 65 shared more than seven times as much fake news content as users aged between 18 and 29.

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