Two of Facebook’s US “fact-checkers” tasked with keeping fake news from proliferating have chosen to quit doing the job for the social media giant while issuing cryptic statements concerning their continuing relationship.
Snopes and the Associated Press have both ended their fact-checking partnerships with Facebook, releasing carefully-worded statements that leave open the possibility of future collaboration while making it clear the checking of facts will fall to whoever is left – Politifact, FactCheck.org, AFP, and the Atlantic Council, which lurks in the background, keeping the platform safe for democracy.
Snopes, the rumor oracle that became famous for settling the truth of urban legends, issued a statement announcing it had “elected not to renew [its] partnership” with Facebook, citing the costs and “ramifications” of offering third-party fact-checking while stressing it hopes to “discuss other approaches to combating misinformation.”
“Forgoing an economic opportunity is not a decision that we or any other journalistic enterprise can take lightly,” Snopes admits. Like many in the mainstream media these days, the site is adorned with fundraising banners and claims to be cash-strapped. The company received $100,000 from Facebook for its fact-checking services last year, a sum founder David Mikkelson stressed it did not ask for. Regarding the split, Mikkelson told TechCrunch that the partnership “wasn’t working well for us as an organization,” citing a lack of data on the effectiveness of the fact-checking program.
Former Snopes employees had more to say about Facebook last month, accusing the platform of “using us for crisis PR” and ignoring fact-checkers’ concerns – about fake news, harassment, and even the conscription of the network in the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. The financial relationship made one employee feel “really gross,” as she felt it prevented the company from accurately reporting on negative rumors involving Facebook. And the site’s own fake-news-pushing on George Soros didn’t exactly improve morale.
The AP had less to say about its pullout, though a representative told TechCrunch that while it was “no longer doing fact checking work for the program, it is not leaving it altogether.” Calls for clarification were not immediately answered.
The timing of both companies’ recusals is suspicious, given the recent rollout of the Orwellian NewsGuard app on Microsoft’s mobile browser and in some US libraries. NewsGuard, an app which users have quickly found assigns reliability ratings based more on a site’s conformity to the mainstream neoliberal narrative than its veracity – has been praised as a great leap forward in the fight against fake news. Is this what Mikkelson means by “other approaches to combating misinformation?”
Comments from Snopes vice president Vinny Green indicate that NewsGuard’s one-stop “blacklist” model is the future of “fact”-checking: “The work that fact-checkers are doing doesn’t need to be just for Facebook – we can build things for fact-checkers that benefit the whole web, and that can also help Facebook,” Green told Poynter.
Rather than checking individual facts – an admittedly time-consuming process – he suggested “fake websites” should “just be reported through other means” – accompanied, of course, by “a body of evidence that these people shouldn’t be on your platform because of their nefarious activity.” This blacklist model is the core of NewsGuard – though no activity is so nefarious that one can’t find a way to be taken off the blacklist, as suggested by Daily Mail’s success in this regard.
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