September 13, 2018

America’s always-on partisan goggles

Despite its global user base, Facebook’s actions against misinformation keep being informed by and analyzed with a narrowly American viewpoint.

This was evident again on Tuesday, when U.S. progressive news site ThinkProgress argued it was being censored on the social network under the orders of one of its fact-checking partners, The Weekly Standard Fact Check. (Note: being an IFCN verified signatory is a necessary condition to join the partnership; we’ll return to that toward the end.)

The dispute centered around a headline. In a legal analysis published Sept. 9, ThinkProgress argued that Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony and previous speeches heavily implied he would vote to overturn the abortion-rights decision Roe v Wade.

The headline, however, showed no such subtlety, claiming that “Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade last week.”

Kavanaugh did not make any variation of that statement. In a fact check published the next day, TWS Fact Check noted that “Arguments surrounding whether Kavanaugh would overturn Roe aside,” the nominee never made that literal claim.

The tension between literalism and contextualism is one fact-checkers face every day, and was well-documented in the book “Deciding What’s True” by journalism professor Lucas Graves. Swing too far towards literalism and you’re a bone-headed bean counter. Get too contextual and you’re taking wild leaps of interpretation — something fact-checking was explicitly set up to avoid.

This dispute exposes the fact that Facebook doesn’t really have an answer to a fundamental question: What is its fact-checking for? Is it to clean up the junky viral hoaxes about sharks swimming up interstates? Or to target inaccurate information in all its guises?

Read the rest of Alexios' editorial here.


This is new

  • Facebook is now letting fact-checkers in 17 countries debunk false images and videos, downranking them in the News Feed.
  • CrowdTangle is testing a feature that allows users to report potentially false news from within their Facebook dashboards.
  • After a month of hand-wringing, Twitter banned Alex Jones and InfoWars. A day later, Apple permanently banned the InfoWars app from the App Store.

This is how we do it

  • When Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed during a rally last week, fact-checkers debunked the fakes that were circulating about the incident in a Twitter Moment.
  • Alexios joined others on the verification and fact-checking beat to co-authors this UNESCO handbook for journalism educators.
  • Hurricane Florence is predicted to hit the U.S. East Coast today — and the hoaxes have already started. Here are some tips for how to avoid spreading misinformation about the storm.
Swedish election
The Aug. 30, 2018 phot shows election poster of Jimmie Akesson, right, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats and Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, second from right. in Flen, some 100 km west of Stockholm, Sweden. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

This is bad

  • The volume of “junk news” that was shared ahead of this week’s election in Sweden was higher than any other European country — and outmatched only by the U.S., according to the Oxford Internet Institute.
  • At least three of Facebook’s 34 global fact-checking partners have been trolled, doxxed or threatened for working with the tech company to debunk misinformation.
  • This fake news network stole a hoax from another site, then stole the resulting debunk from a fact-checker.

This is fun

  • We are retiring our search for the best correction of 2018 having read the following on Brazilian magazine Veja: “The candidate likes to spend his free time reading Tolstoy, and not watching Toy Story, as originally reported”  (h/t @CleuciDeOlivera)
  • Sorry: This anecdote about the history of vibrators probably isn’t real.
  • In his new book about the Trump Administration, Bob Woodward wrote that the president’s aides tried to get him to hold his tweets for fact-checking.
India WhatsApp attacks
In this May 25, 2018 file photo, family member grieve by a portrait of Bala Krishna, a 33-year-old motorized rickshaw driver who was killed by a mob inflamed by social media in Jiyapalli village, outside his house at Korremula village, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A., File)

A closer look

  • BuzzFeed News published a deeply reported article on the gruesome lynchings that have followed from viral WhatsApp messages in rural India. Still, Alexios continues to disagree with framing these tragedies as “WhatsApp killings.”
  • Alexios talked to Bobby Duffy about his book “The Perils of Perception,” why we’re all so bad at distinguishing facts from beliefs and what we can do about it.
  • The Atlantic featured some of the work Boom Live is doing to cut down on the spread of misinformation in India, where hoaxes can have deadly consequences.

If you read one more thing

“We judge exterminators not by the number of roaches they kill, but by the number that survive.” The New York Times published a blistering op-ed on Facebook’s testimony to Congress and the company’s ability to get rid of fake accounts.

5 quick fact-checking links

  1. Malaysia’s repeal of its anti-fake news law isn’t going so well.
  2. In India, members of parliament are encouraging the government to commission a study on how misinformation leads to violence.
  3. This PolitiFact fact check got a lengthy editor’s note after the project edited the story without immediately appending an update. “The lack of notation was an oversight and a mistake.”
  4. ABC News in Australia outlined a few ways that bad actors deceive people into sharing misinformation.
  5. We thought we all agreed to get rid of these headlines forever.

Until next week,

Daniel and Alexios

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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