Facebook on Fake News

At Facebook Inc. headquarters in Silicon Valley this week, engineers and researchers huddled around computers in a newly configured “war room” to fight misinformation ahead of the midterms. Almost 3,000 miles away, in Philadelphia, the fact-checkers hired to be on the front lines haven’t received fresh marching orders.

The disconnect highlights how Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news are playing out differently this election cycle than many expected. Although the company has touted its partnerships with organizations including Factcheck.org in Philadelphia that provide human fact-checkers to vet possibly phony posts, those groups are playing a limited role. The vast majority of Facebook’s efforts against fake news are powered by artificial intelligence, not humans.

Factcheck.org is one of five domestic groups hired by Facebook to deploy human fact-checkers to help prevent a repeat of 2016, when the social-media giant’s platform was flooded with misinformation aimed at sowing divisions ahead of the presidential election.
The most important function of human fact-checkers is to contribute to Facebook’s understanding of the sites that share false news and provide feedback that helps machine learning become more effective, Ms. Lyons said.

Facebook’s war room, which became operational in September ahead of elections in Brazil is staffed by employees rather than outside fact-checkers, although the company said it would include the outsiders in thorny decisions. One morning this week, several Facebook employees were tracking content across Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as national and international news. On one wall was a large American flag; clustered in a corner were motivational posters with slogans like “Focus on Impact” and “Be the Nerd.”

Facebook spends billions annually to improve its artificial intelligence for a range of tasks, including content moderation. It paid Factcheck $189,000 in the fiscal year ended in June, according to public documents.


Todd “Bubba” Horwitz