In light of scandals related to Facebook's supposed role in spreading mass misinformation during elections, the social media giant is partnering with fact-checkers to prevent "foreign interference" in democracies around the world. It's funny how quickly things can change. Remember when Donald Trump suggested that if he didn't win the election might have been rigged? Instantly CNN, President Obama, and others jumped in "debunking" his claim and assuring the public that the elections were inviolable. By December, however, the cries of "Russian propaganda" were everywhere. By December 15, 2016, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted the company needed help to stem the tide of "fake news" just a month after denying any blame for the spread of biased, unfactual, incorrect or outright fabricated news stories.
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Just last month, Poynter Institute for Media Studies decried a continued lack of transparency about how the program works. Nieman Lab pointed towards the "extremely general figures"
Facebook is willing to share regarding the programs effectiveness.
Even some of the biggest names in the fact-checking game like Politifact and former alums of Snopes have cried foul.
Politifact was one of five fact-checking groups who signed a statement asking Facebook to "be transparent about the effectiveness and scope of its third-party fact-checking program." CNBC reported
how Factcheck.org noted they had no more than a post per day at most to review in the Facebook system.
Then there are the results from Facebook's third-party fact checkers themselves. Poynter Institute of Media's anonymous survey
offered a bit of insight beyond the "black box" of FB proprietary fact-checking state secrets. Somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 posts may have been flagged and checked. That said, these figures are based on the 19 fact checking orgs that responded to the survey request. Just over half the group isn't necessarily a representative sample, especially when you consider respondents were self-selected. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not satisfied and 5 being very satisfied, 36.84% of fact checkers were somewhat dissatisfied with the FB partnership and 52.63% were somewhat satisfied with 5.26% of respondents in the "very" or "not" satisfied bracket.
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Regarding whether the work has actually reduced the reach of FB hoaxes where 1 is not at all and 5 is absolutely, 5.26% believed the work was fruitless, 15.79% believed that it was nearly futile, at 63.16% the bulk scored their faith in the program as "so so." Only 10.53% rated their work as 4 "almost absolutely helpful" and none of the 19 fact-checking organizations was willing to bet that they had "absolutely" reduced the reach of hoaxes.
When it comes to transparency, over a quarter of respondents believed Facebook did not at all share enough information on the program with the public at all. The bulk at 42.11% felt Facebook was at a 3 in between not at all and absolutely. None of the respondents felt Facebook "absolutely" shared enough data about the fact-checking protocol, its methods and successes or failures.
And that's just transparency and trust issues, not even getting into how "weaponizing" fact checkers could be used for political or corporate interests to quash their competition.
Facebook recently announced
via a press release how they were working to ensure more control over the platform to prevent election meddling. From investigating pages and profiles flagged by machine learning and artificial intelligence to having their (recently doubled) security team manually review on second pass. That said, the bots will still be "blocking fake accounts." How a bot can be certain a person is real or not seems to pose an existential and metaphysical dilemma, but let's not go into that now. Political ads and some pages must be "verified" through a "multi-step process."
Newsguard, a firm set up to help Google curb [the wrong type of] fake news is human-based rather than algorithmic, but it too apparently has had multiple issues marking hoaxes as credible
Breitbart pointed out several stories that have been shown to be hoaxes or untrue that are still being marked "credible" by Newsguard as well as several stories with no factual issues that, for whatever reason, were categorized as fake news.
Look at how NewsGuard and Microsoft openly and audaciously deceive their readers…
The Washington Post’s debunked hoax about Russia hacking Vermont’s utility grid — credible!!
The lie about first lady Melania Trump being an illegal alien — credible!!
The lie about Trump changing the name of Black History Month — credible!!
The lie about Trump threatening to invade Mexico — credible!!
The lie about Congress investigating a Russian fund with ties to Trump — credible!!
Despite the lack of faith from independent and mainstream media reporters and fact checkers themselves, however, Facebook marches on in their "quest" to slay the dragon of dangerous delusion and disinformation.
Fighting false news: We're committed to preventing the spread of false news by removing financial incentives for spammers, reducing the distribution of stories rated as false by third-party fact-checkers and helping people make more informed decisions about what to read, trust and share.
A lot of the recent damage control was inspired by nearly a year of articles expressing concern with Facebook's "new and improved" fact checking formula that's so great they can't let anybody know how it works. One of the most damning, of course, was December's article from Guardian:
Kim LaCapria recently left Snopes as a content manager and fact-checker partly due to her frustrations with the Facebook arrangement. She said it quickly seemed clear that Facebook wanted the “appearance of trying to prevent damage without actually doing anything” and that she was particularly upset to learn that Facebook was paying Snopes: “That felt really gross … Facebook has one mission and factchecking websites should have a completely different mission.”
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Brooke Binkowski said that on at least one occasion, Facebook seemed to be prioritizing potential disinformation that affected Facebook advertisers: “You’re not doing journalism any more. You’re doing propaganda.”
Whether this is true or not, it is certainly a fact, as we have reported, that YouTube and Facebook generally tend to crack down on kratom, nootropic and CBD pages, groups and channels around the same time as they're on a big push related to "fake news" or "racism" or whatever the most recent crusade is.
The former Snopes snipers called it "crisis PR" but Facebook has denied the claims
“I strongly believe that they are spreading fake news on behalf of hostile foreign powers and authoritarian governments as part of their business model,” Binkowski said.
Facebook's statement came short somewhat in a few ways. For one, The Guardian did have several sources in the field of journalism who contributed to the story, not just "two disgruntled former Snopes employees." Other journalists had issues ranging from lack of transparency, ethical violations and even the hiring of a PR firm "to target critics by associating them with Jewish philanthropist George Soros."
But wait, I thought doing that made
you "fake news." Then again, I keep forgetting, when you make the rules I suppose you can change them just as easily when they no longer suit your purposes.
Politifact editor Angie Drobnic Holan called the partnership a “public service,” however. She said that Facebook has been helpful in “identifying questionable material.” She also noted that revenue from the partnership aids their overall sustainability. Oh, no, I get you Angie. We all got to eat, right?
“Is it reducing fake content on Facebook? I don’t know, I can’t tell. Can Facebook tell? You would assume they could. I don’t have any way of knowing."
So there's very little we do know, part of the job is automated now. Similar is going on at YouTube which is employing AI funded by the Anti-Defmation League which classes 9/11 Truth videos and other "conspiracies" as hate speech. At Facebook, the automation uses "machine learning, which relies on a number of signals like feedback from people who use Facebook and the number of comments expressing disbelief (e.g., “No way this is real!”)." Because, come on, if you can't believe it, it can't be true, right?
Regardless, it's obvious we will be dependant on the grace of AI and (paid) third-party fact-checkers. Snopes and Facebook marked claims Phillips lied about his military record "unproven" despite ample evidence from video interviews and Facebook posts he had made in the past. Phillips, by the way, was a refrigerator mechanic, not a "Recon Ranger" and despite claiming online in videos that he was "in theater" (meaning overseas in battle), he never left the US and was discharged after going AWOL multiple times.
WaPo, NYT and CNN among numerous others were duped and had to later retract their claims that Phillips was a Vietnam veteran. Apparently, they don't bother with fact-checking knowing that even when they lie the fact checkers will cover for them. From Snopes:
In an older, rambling Facebook video that surfaced after the controversy broke, though, Phillips could seemingly be heard to say (at around the 9:35 mark) “I’m a Vietnam vet, and I served in Marine Corps 72 to 76. I got discharged May 5th, 1976 … I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times. I usually say I don’t recollect, I don’t recall those years”
He doesn't "seemingly say" the words "I am a Vietnam vet" in the video. He literally
Also, I'm guessing Snopes must do a lot
of yoga because a stretch like this would be painful for many people. Oh well, enough logic yoga and mental gymnastics and there's nearly no limit to what you can purport to be true:
In a 2018 Vogue article about Standing Rock, Phillips referenced Vietnam and his being “a recon ranger,” but again the statement was ambiguous — he said he was “from Vietnam times” and that “I’m what they call a recon ranger,” but it was again unclear whether he intended his statement to convey that he had actually served as a “recon ranger” in Vietnam (which he did not), or whether he was using the term “recon ranger” to describe his post-military activities.
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Fact checking has been proposed as the solution of the "fake news" problem, but with mainstream media and social media pinning all the blame on independent outlets while ignoring blatantly false information released regularly by "respected venues" like New York Times or CNN it's plain to see this problem will not be solved simply and certainly not fairly.