SINGAPORE: Facebook has brought its third-party fact-checking programme to Singapore via a partnership with international news outlet Agence France-Presse (AFP), as it continues efforts to tackle false news and misinformation on its platform.
The partnership, which is effective Thursday (May 2), will see AFP fact-check content in Singapore in English, Mandarin and Malay, said Ms Anjali Kapoor, APAC News Partnership director at Facebook, during a briefing.
As this is a third-party partnership, Facebook employees will not be assigned to work with AFP, said Ms Kapoor. She did not reveal how many fact-checkers will be committed to the programme, saying that it is not the company’s practice to disclose details about its partners' decisions.
In a separate press release, Facebook said that AFP - which is certified by Poynter Institute’s non-partisan International Fact Checking Network - will review and rate the accuracy of stories, photos and videos.
There are nine ratings: False, mixture, false headline, true, not eligible, satire, opinion, prank generator and not rated.
Content rated as false have primary claims that are factually inaccurate, while mixture refers to content that is a mix of accurate and inaccurate or the primary claim is misleading or incomplete, Facebook said on its site. A false headline means the primary claims of the story are true but the claim in the headline is factually inaccurate.
Stories rated as false will appear lower in the News Feed, thus reducing distribution, it said.
Pages and domains that repeatedly publish false content will have their ability to monetise and advertise removed, said Ms Kapoor. Repeat offenders will also lose the ability to register as a news Page on Facebook, while an existing news Page will have its registration revoked.
“Fact-checking is highly effective in fighting misinformation,” said Ms Kapoor, adding that Facebook currently has more than 50 fact-check partners looking over content in 41 different languages. Plans are in place to expand those numbers even further this year, she said.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AS AN AID
Elaborating on how Facebook's fact-checking mechanism works, Ms Kapoor said that potentially false news is flagged by artificial intelligence (AI) that incorporates “various signals”.
Some of these signals include a story’s “virality” in terms of how it is shared, as well as comments on the content. An example would be if disbelief - “No way this is real!” - was expressed a lot for a particular content, she said.
Fact-checkers then go through a list of potentially false content and decide what to check, she said. “They are under no obligation to fact-check anything from the list” and can identify stories to review on their own, Ms Kapoor added.
“In our experience, once a third-party fact-checker marks something as false, we're able to demote that post and similar posts, reducing future impressions by more than 80 per cent on average,” Ms Kapoor said.
She added that its work with third-party fact-checkers also helps it better understand what might be false and show them lower in News Feed.
“False ratings from third-party fact-checkers are a helpful signal that we use to inform our machine-learning models, so that we can more quickly and accurately detect future false stories,” Ms Kapoor said.
“This means that over time, we’re getting smarter and faster in determining what articles might be hoaxes and sending them to fact-checkers to review.”
On AFP’s end, Asia Fact Check editor Karl Malakunas said with the addition of Singapore, the news agency now has specific fact-checking operations in more than 20 countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Australia.
FACEBOOK'S RELATIONSHIP WITH FACT-CHECKERS
Even as AFP signs on to be a fact-checking partner in Singapore, others have dropped out.
Online fact-checking site Snopes said in a blog post in February that it chose not to renew its partnership with Facebook as it wants to make sure its “efforts to aid any particular platform are a net positive for (the) online community, publication and staff”.
Another report by BBC this April painted a picture of fact-checking partners not knowing whether the work they do have an impact. The report also spoke of Facebook having a payment cap - a monthly limit of explanatory articles after which fact-checking agencies would not be paid for their work.
Asked to comment on how these might affect its partnership with AFP, Ms Kapoor reiterated: “We don’t disclose specific details of our partnership.”
Overall though, Poynter reported this week that while reports about Facebook's fact-checking efforts have been mixed, it had quadrupled its fact-checking partners and added more in preparation for elections around the world.
HOW ABOUT WHATSAPP AND INSTAGRAM?
Facebook's expansion of its fact-checking programme to Singapore comes ahead of the Singapore Government’s plans to introduce a law targeting deliberate online falsehoods.
The proposed legislation requires social media platforms to carry corrections alongside content deemed to be false and, in more serious cases, take down the content. They can also be asked to disable inauthentic online accounts or bots.
The social media giant’s Public Policy vice president Simon Milner said when the Bill was tabled last month that it was concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel Facebook to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a Government notification to others.
Asked about how Facebook is responding to the proposed Bill, Ms Kapoor declined to comment, saying there are other teams within the company dealing with this and who continue to be in discussion with authorities.
As to whether the company will look to expand its fact-checking to its other platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram, the executive said: “We look forward to exploring more opportunities to expand this programme locally. We currently have no updates to share at this point.”