Facebook takes its fake news fight to Germany

Facebook is expanding its trial of measures to combat fake news beyond the U.S. for the first time — and will shortly be rolling out the updates in Germany. In a blog post yesterday the company said it will be introducing the updates to the market “in the coming weeks”.

Last month Facebook’s VP of News Feed, Adam Mosseri, detailed the company’s plans for fighting fake news being shared and amplified on the platform.

This followed a storm of criticism about Facebook’s role in the US presidential election, with many commentators pointing the finger of blame at the social media giant for not doing enough to stop the spread of bogus information via its News Feed. Not least because, according to a 2016 Pew study, a majority of US adults get news via social media.

Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also finally conceded the company has “a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through”, rowing back from his previously stated position that Facebook is a technology company, not a media firm.

“While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news,” he wrote in a status update on December 15. “We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.”

Measures Facebook has been testing in the U.S. to fight fake news — and which will soon be arriving in Germany — focus on three areas:

  • making it easier for users to report fake news — currently by letting users click in the top right corner to report a suspect post
  • badging suspect content with ‘truth warnings’ and down-ranking it to make it harder for it to spread. To identify fake news Facebook is working with external fact checkers who are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles
  • reducing financial incentives for spammers to create fake news as a route to generating advertising revenue by “eliminating the ability for them to spoof well-known news websites and enforcing our existing policies on a more proactive basis”. (Back in November both Facebook and Google banned fake news sites from using their ad networks in a bit to throttle ad-based revenue streams that incentivize fake news.)

Why is Germany being prioritized? The country is due to hold elections this year, which likely explains why it’s next in line to get the Facebook updates.

In recent years the German government has also been critical of Facebook’s response to another problem: the spread of hate speech via its platform.

In Germany the fact checking organization Facebook is working with to tackle fake news is Correctiv — which does not (yet) appear to be a signatory of Poynter’s code. Facebook says its external fact checkers in Germany are “signing the Poynter guidelines”. We’ve reached out to Correctiv with questions and will update this post with any response.

Update: A spokesman for Correctiv confirmed it is in the process of joining Poynter’s, noting: “This takes some time due to technical circumstances (they remodeled their website).” Asked how it will be determining which stories to flag, he said: “We are in the first phase of this project and still do not know, how to handle this issues. But I’m sure, we will soon have answers.” In terms of which local publishers Correctiv trusts, he named Spiegel, Süddeztsche Zeitung and FAZ as three examples.

Facebook says posts identified as fraudulent by Correctiv will be badged with a warning label that identifies them as untrustworthy, although badged posts will still include a link to the suspect article, along with a justification for it being flagged as fake.

The company further notes that messages classified as untrustworthy may also appear later in the newsfeed. And while it will still be possible for users to share posts labeled as untrustworthy it will not be possible to share the original content without the ‘suspect content’ warning.

“We will learn from these tests in Germany and will further improve and expand our tools over time,” says Facebook in a blog post on the launch (translated from Germany via Google Translate).

“It is important to us that posts and news posted on Facebook are reliable. We are pleased with this progress, but we know there is still a lot to be done. We continue to work on this challenge and will introduce these innovations in other countries in the near future,” it adds.

After Facebook announced its plan to lean heavily on the expertise of third party fact checkers to help police the veracity of News Feed content — and specifically on those who have signed up to Poynter’s principles — the latter organization is overhauling its vetting process for signatories. It notes on its website that it won’t be adding any new signatories until it has these new procedures in place.

“We conducted an interim desk review of the U.S. fact-checkers and will ask all signatories to produce a full report within the next few weeks. While the pilot phase of Facebook’s program unrolls, aspiring new signatories can express their interest through our online form but will not be vetted before a definitive vetting system has been established,” Poynter’s further adds in a Q&A about its role in Facebook’s trial.