A few days ago, the Columbia Journalism Review published a thorough and frightening look into Facebook’s fact-checking program. The social network enlists organizations like Snopes and PolitiFact to scroll through thousands of contested articles and deem how factual they are. As CJR writes, the news organizations “negotiate their professional missions with Facebook’s, and struggle to understand the coalition’s impact.”
One thing that stood out was the partnership’s narrow parameters. For example, if the point of the program is to combat rampant fake news on the site, it certainly is odd that the fact-checkers reportedly aren’t asked to look at memes. “We should be doing work on memes,” one fact-checker told CJR.
Indeed they should. Just this morning, one of my editors pointed out one meme featuring Mark Zuckerberg, which had over 2,000 shares and over 85,000 comments. The meme, from a Facebook page called “The Conservative Rebel,” instructed people to type “BFF” into the comments to learn if their account was “protected.” Facebook does have a new feature where terms like BFF change colors, but it’s in no way tied to the security of one’s Facebook account. (Snopes itself debunked this claim last month.)
The page is part of a group of Facebook dwellers that promote image-based content that’s able to easily slip under Facebook’s radar. If I try to report any of these posts, there is no option that lets me list it as spreading false information.
I reached out to Facebook for more information and will update if I hear back.
Ultimately, this gets at Facebook’s anemic attempt to battle misinformation. On the one hand, it’s good that articles are being fact-checked (although, the CJR piece questions the ways Facebook makes that possible). On the other hand, much of the fake news fog comes from memes and outlandish images proclaiming completely false stuff, and those continue to spread like wildfire.
Until Facebook comes to grip with this problem, its attempts to fix fake news will likely have minimal impact.