Facebook Fact Checkers Are Not Happy: ‘We Need More Transparency’

Fake news fighters want more support from social network, new survey shows

Erasing fake news from Facebook sounds like a thankless, frustrating and unfulfilling job, according to a new report.

A survey from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism drives home that point, citing several high-ranking members of the social network’s third-party fact-checking team who seek more support from the company.

In the wake of the 2016 U.S. election, Facebook partnered with five organizations — ABC News, the Associated Press, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, and Snopes — to combat the spread of misinformation on its massive platform. One of the “six senior people” interviewed by Tow fellow Mike Ananny said “we need more transparency” from Facebook, and wanted the company to put out an annual report on how effective its fight against fake news is.

The partnerships were viewed by many fact-checkers as “cheap and effective PR [public relations]” for Facebook, according to Ananny, as the company grappled with public criticism for its inability to weed out fake news.

The process works like this: The fact-checkers look at a dashboard built by Facebook. The dashboard fills with more than 2,000 stories each day in need of review. The stories are ranked by “popularity,” although the fact-checkers complained they have little idea what that means. The organizations then grab the stories, fix the errors, and send back to Facebook, which adjusts how the stories are presented on the site.

Facebook has made strides in combatting fake news since the 2016 election. Beyond its fact-checking initiative, the company has added thousands of workers to monitor content, and just this week, booted hundreds of Kremlin-tied trolls.

But several of the fact-checkers interviewed by Tow said they still see plenty of room for improvement. One participant, who remained anonymous, said he or she was curious about how the dashboard functions — the organizations weren’t consulted during its creation — and wondered if mainstream outlets were being “filtered out.” The fact-checker added “major conspiracy theories or conservative media,” like InfoWars, routinely falls through the cracks.

Another gripe was Facebook’s lack of focus on memes. “The partnership doesn’t address memes, just stories. We’ve had these conversations with Facebook; it’s something they say they want to do but haven’t done it,” said a fact-checker who was surveyed.

Check out the full 15,900-word report here.