January 30, 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.

When the longest government shutdown in United States history came to an end on Friday, fact-checkers were still busy debunking hoaxes about it.

Snopes, Factcheck.org and (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact all debunked hoaxes about the shutdown and its implications for American immigration policy this week, including one particularly viral post about illegal immigrants receiving government checks. That story was the highest performing of the week for all three fact-checking outlets.

But not all of Facebook’s fact-checking partners, which are granted the ability to decrease the reach of false stories, images and videos in the News Feed, were so lucky.

Some of the most apolitical fact checks (see: “No, this species of parrot is not extinct”) got nearly no traction on Facebook compared to the hoaxes they debunked. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)

Below are the top fact checks since last Tuesday 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. ‘Dilma did not issue a decree to reduce government responsibility for dam collapses’

Fact: 28.5K engagements

Fake: 1.4K engagements

Following the collapse of a dam in Brazil on Friday, misinformation circulated on social media — and Agência Lupa was on top of it.

One such hoax, which a hyperpartisan Facebook page published the next day, claimed that former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff altered a government decree to classify dam collapses as natural phenomena in order to make government agencies less responsible. Lupa debunked the false post, which included a screenshot of the decree, reporting that dam collapses are only categorized as natural disasters when victims need assistance from a state workers fund.

Lupa flagged the false post, which was copied by several other pages and users on Facebook — some of which racked up thousands of more engagements. Lupa’s fact check was not displayed underneath the original post on the hyperpartisan page, but Poynter could not share (and then promptly delete) it without receiving a warning.

2. ‘No, 18 million illegal immigrants did not get a “government check” this month’

Fact: 17.4K engagements

Fake: 4.4K engagements

This fact check was a key win for PolitiFact during a news cycle that continued to be driven by the government shutdown and U.S. immigration.

In a text post published Jan. 20, a Facebook user falsely claimed that 18 million illegal immigrants received government checks during the government shutdown this month while federal employees did not. PolitiFact debunked that Jan. 24, saying that — aside from the fact that undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for most government benefits — there aren’t even 18 million of them in the U.S.

Snopes and Factcheck.org also debunked the false post, which was copied verbatim in other posts on Facebook and Twitter, in their highest-performing fact checks of the week, which both amassed fewer engagements than PolitiFact’s. Poynter could not share the hoax without receiving a warning, but only PolitiFact and Factcheck.org’s debunks appeared below the false posts since Snopes said it had not flagged them.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

3. ‘No, Red Scarves did not march with a banner of support to Benalla and Castaner’

Fact: 9.8K engagements

Fake: 3.7K engagements

As the Yellow Vests protest continues in France, another faction named for clothing has emerged: the Red Scarves. And the group, which formed in response to the violence that some Yellow Vest protests elicited, has spawned more misinformation about the unrest.

On Jan. 27, a Facebook page that’s known to post footage of protests posted an image that allegedly showed Red Scarf protesters marching with a banner bearing the names of two French officials with two blue hearts. While that suggests the protesters support the political establishment, Libération’s CheckNews debunked the image, reporting that that banner was not made by the Red Scarves — but rather Yellow Vest supporters who wanted to troll the former.

While CheckNews linked to the image in its debunk, Poynter was still able to share it without any warning, meaning the false post wasn’t properly flagged in Facebook’s fact-checking system.

4. ‘No, this species of parrot is not extinct’

Fact: 485 engagements

Fake: 12.8K engagements

A lot of misinformation on Facebook tries to stoke partisan tensions to get likes and shares. But this hoax targeted animal lovers.

In a Facebook image post published Jan. 16, a page called “I love animals” in French falsely claimed that the blue macaw had been declared extinct. The Agence France-Presse debunked that Jan. 24, citing an International Union for Conservation of Nature report that found the species is not even at risk of extinction. In fact, the bird is among the most “widespread and common” in the world.

Poynter was not able to share the false Facebook without receiving a warning about AFP’s fact check, but the related article did not display underneath the hoax on the “I love animals” page.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

5. ‘No, World Bank Did Not Name Modi As The PM Who Borrowed The Most Since 1947’

Fact: 112 engagements

Fake: 1.2K engagements

While this hoax got nearly 10 times more engagements on Facebook than a debunk from Boom Live, it was later deleted altogether.

The false news story, which a Facebook user posted in a group owned by a “digital media startup on YouTube,” claimed that the World Bank said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had borrowed the most from the organization since India’s independence. Boom Live debunked the story, saying it was an old story from a bogus news site that publishes mainly anti-Modi content and it could not find data to back up the claim.

Boom linked to the false story on Facebook, but no related fact check was listed below the posts that were still live as of publication.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News