February 7, 2019

Fact vs. Fake is a weekly column in which we compare the reach of fact checks vs. hoaxes on Facebook. Read all our analyses here.

It’s been a weird week for Facebook’s partnership with fact-checkers.

On Friday, Snopes dropped out of the program, which enables fact-checkers to decrease the reach of false claims on the platform, citing bandwidth concerns. ABC News has also dropped out, and the Associated Press is evaluating its participation. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)

Still, some American fact-checkers leveraged the partnership to outperform major hoaxes on Facebook this week — while their foreign counterparts struggled to do the same.

As (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact got tens of thousands of Facebook engagements for a fact check of New York’s new abortion law, Brazilian fact-checker Aos Fatos continued to struggle with misinformation about a recent dam collapse; one of its stories got 10 times fewer engagements than a false meme on Facebook. A fact check from Le Monde’s fact-checking project performed similarly poorly.

Below are the top fact checks since last Wednesday in order of how many likes, comments and shares they got on Facebook, according to data from the audience metrics tool BuzzSumo. None of them address spoken statements (like this one) because they aren’t tied to a specific URL, image or video that fact-checkers can flag. Read more about our methodology here.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

1. ‘No, New York abortion law doesn’t let mothers abort babies a minute before they would be born’

Fact: 31.2K engagements

Fake: 7.2K engagements

This PolitiFact fact check was its highest performing post of the week — even doing better than the site’s coverage of the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

The fact check debunked a false Facebook image of a baby posted by a hyperpartisan page. The image claimed that, under a new New York law, it is legal to abort unborn babies one minute before they’re born. The false post came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that adopted the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion as state law, sparking misinformation across social media.

PolitiFact wrote in its fact check that the New York legislation expands healthcare practitioners’ power to perform abortions when “the patient is within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” Under its partnership with Facebook, once PolitiFact flags a post as false, users should receive a warning before sharing it — but Poynter was still able to share (and then promptly delete) the image without receiving a warning.

2. ‘Pelosi Didn’t Spend $497 Million on Renovations’

Fact: 5.5K engagements

Fake: 1.1K engagements

Days before U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took the stage for Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, misinformers were spreading bogus claims about her on Facebook.

On Jan. 27, a hyperpartisan page shared a bogus story that claimed Pelosi had spent $497 million on office renovations during the recent government shutdown. The story was originally published by Christopher Blair, a notorious internet hoaxer who claims his work is satire despite the fact that fake news sites often copy his stories, and cited a made-up Gateway Pundit report. The article seemed to be down as of publication, and no archived version exists in the Wayback Machine.

Factcheck.org flagged the post as part of its partnership with Facebook, but only a similar fact check from PolitiFact was listed as a related article underneath. Poynter was not able to share the false story from the hyperpartisan page without receiving a warning that it had been debunked — but a glitch that lets users share false posts from their specific URLs is still happening.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

3. ‘Marina Silva did not license dams of Brumadinho and Mariana; permission came from the government of Minas Gerais’

Fact: 3.3K engagements

Fake: 36.4K engagements 

Nearly two weeks after a dam burst at a mine in the Brazilian province of Minas Gerais, misinformation continues to mar social media — and it’s beating fact-checkers 10 to one.

On Jan. 29, a Facebook user posted a bogus meme claiming Marina Silva, a former environment minister and presidential candidate, authorized the construction of two dams that have burst in the past few years: Brumadinho and Mariana. In fact, Aos Fatos reported that the former was constructed more than 40 years ago and the latter was authorized by state agencies in Minas Gerais, as is required by law.

Aos Fatos debunked the false post on Facebook, and Poynter was not able to share it from the hyperpartisan page without receiving a warning that it had been debunked.

4. ‘No, this photo does not show Edouard Philippe sleeping in the National Assembly’

Fact: 3.3K engagements 

Fake: 23.8K engagements 

Another one of the most viral hoaxes Poynter analyzed this week found a huge audience in Facebook groups for Yellow Vest protesters — who have peddled plenty of misinformation in recent weeks.

On Nov. 22, a Facebook user posted a photo that he claimed depicted Edouard Philippe, the prime minister of France, asleep in the National Assembly. The post was an apparent effort from the Yellow Vests, which started as a protest of rising diesel taxes and has since grown to become more anti-establishment, to critique politicians in power. But Le Monde’s Les Décodéurs fact-checking project debunked the photo Feb. 1, saying Philippe wasn’t asleep at all — he was deep in thought.

Les Décodéurs debunked the image as part of its partnership with Facebook, albeit more than two months after it was published. One earlier version of the meme even racked up about 300,000 shares. But both Les Décodéurs’ article and a related fact check from CheckNews were listed below the post, which Poynter could not share without receiving a warning.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

5. ‘Are dogs dying from eating jerky treats?’

Fact: 245 engagements

Fake: 30.3K engagements 

Wow, people really love hoaxes about animals.

On Jan. 11, a Facebook user posted a screenshot of some text that claimed jerky dog treats purchased at British retailer B&M were causing kidney failure in dogs. It also claimed that veterinarians had released a report saying that the treats weren’t safe for dogs. However, Full Fact debunked the post, saying that there was no evidence to support the claim that treats from one specific retailer were causing the condition.

Full Fact flagged the post as part of its partnership with Facebook, and its related fact check was displayed underneath. Poynter was not able to share the hoax without receiving a warning.

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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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  • Poynter writers: is this phrase correct: “one of its stories got 10 times fewer engagements than a false meme”? I was trained to avoid using a multiple to express a value that is lower than the comparator. So, this would be written as “got one-tenth as many engagements.” Yes?