UPDATED 22:38 EST / DECEMBER 13 2018


Facebook slams report that fact-checkers were hired only for ‘crisis PR’

Facebook Inc. is criticizing a scathing report published by The Guardian Thursday in which former and current fact-checkers said they were hired for face value rather than to do a meaningful job.

The report stated that some of the fact-checkers who were hired to combat fake news had “lost trust” in Facebook. One of the reasons was that Facebook had hired its own PR firm to disseminate positive news about the company, “fueling the same kind of propaganda fact-checkers regularly debunk.”

“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” Brooke Binkowski told the Guardian. She had been hired by Facebook after a position as managing editor of 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.”

In 2016, Facebook had partnered with Snopes and other organizations to combat the spread of what has become known as fake news. At the time it was said that news that gets flagged for possibly being erroneous would be given to those fact-checkers to scrutinize.

One of those journalists interviewed by The Guardian has called for an end to these partnerships, stating that Facebook is making journalists “look bad.” Binkowski also said fact-checkers were asked to “prioritize debunking misinformation that affected Facebook advertisers.” This she called propaganda, not journalism.

No sooner was the story published than Facebook responded, saying the article included several inaccuracies. Facebook said it had tried to give information to The Guardian and the paper had declined. The company added that the story rested on just one interview from an employee who no longer works as a partner fact-checker.

“We have been committed to fighting misinformation for years now and have strong relationships with our third-party fact-checking partners — we now have 35 partners in 24 countries around the world,” said Facebook. “We value our ongoing partnerships and the work that these journalists do, and we’re planning to expand the program to even more countries in 2019.”

The company addressed the accusation that it asked journalists to protect advertisers, saying that the process is automatic. First, according to Facebook, an algorithm flags a story and then fact-checkers are given a list of all potential fake news stories in a list. Facebook said the fact-checkers can pick any story from this list.

As for fact-checking being merely a PR stunt, Facebook said it has researched the positive effect third-party fact-checking programs have had on reducing the amount of false news appearing on the platform. “We’re starting to send fact-checkers quarterly reports that include customized statistics that reflect the work and impact of each fact-checker,” the company said.

Image: Alan Levine/Flickr

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