These misleading images got more engagement on Facebook than their fact checks

February 13, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking

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.

On Facebook, false and misleading photos continue to outperform fact checks that debunk them.

This week, fact-checkers debunked several viral photos that spread on the social media platform in the Philippines, France and Turkey. Facebook’s fact-checking partners can limit the future reach of false images, videos and posts on the platform once they’re deemed false. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)

But despite the debunks, those false photos still reached a bigger audience on Facebook than fact-checkers.

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 audience metrics tools BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle. 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. ‘False Claim About Ocasio-Cortez’s “Demand”’

Fact: 4.7K engagements 

Fake: 371

Another post from notorious internet hoaxer Christopher Blair targeted U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) this week. But Factcheck.org’s debunk ultimately had more shares on Facebook.

In a story published Jan. 24 and shared on a Tiffany Trump Facebook fan page, the site Last Line of Defense — which Blair claims is satire aimed at tricking conservatives into sharing bogus claims — wrote that Ocasio-Cortez demanded welfare for 1 million illegal immigrants in exchange for President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Factcheck.org debunked that, saying the story contains a few falsehoods about the congresswoman and perpetuates the false claim that illegal immigrants are eligible for government benefits.

Factcheck.org flagged the false story on Facebook under its partnership with the tech company. Poynter was not able to share it without receiving a warning that it had been debunked, except in the post-level view, which contains a glitch that lets users share false posts without a warning.

2. ‘MISLEADING: Manila Bay “resort,” “soon-to-be-beach” photos’

Fact: 4.5K engagements

Fake: 32.5K engagements

Manila Bay, the body of water that’s home to the capital of the Philippines, is heavily polluted. But some Facebook users fell for some images this week that made it look like the bay would soon be a tropical paradise.

On Jan. 28, a Philippine clickbait page posted a series of photos purportedly showing the rehabilitation of Manila Bay from a polluted wasteland into a beach resort. The photos were re-shared in travel Facebook groups, racking up thousands of more engagements. But Philippine site Rappler.com debunked the images, saying that Manila Bay will not be safe for swimming for at least the next seven years.

Rappler is one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners, but Poynter was still able to share the out-of-context photos without receiving a warning that they had been debunked as misleading.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

3. ‘“Yellow Vests”: decontextualized photos to criticize Macron’

Fact: 2.0K engagements

Fake: 5.3K engagements

In France, the Yellow Vest protests against President Emmanuel Macron and the political establishment have provided ample fodder for misinformation online. And the trend continued this week.

On Feb. 3, a Facebook user shared five photos purportedly depicting citizens injured and bloodied during protests in France, using them to criticize Macron’s reaction to the Yellow Vests. The photos were quickly copied by other Facebook users, getting more than 30,000 engagements. The Agence France-Presse debunked the posts, saying only one of the photos was actually taken in France during the time of the Yellow Vest protests.

The AFP flagged the miscaptioned photos on Facebook under its partnership with the tech company. Poynter was not able to share (and then promptly delete) the photos without receiving a warning that they had been debunked.

4. ‘No, courts did not “quietly confirm” MMR vaccine causes autism’

Fact: 1.6K engagements

Fake: 60 engagements

PolitiFact did a good job of jumping on this zombie claim (an old hoax that crops up again and again) before it got too much engagement on Facebook this week.

Last week, a Facebook user shared a false story in an antivaxxer group called the “Vaccine Resistance Movement” that claimed courts had confirmed the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) had been linked to autism. PolitiFact debunked that bogus article — which was originally published on a fake news site in May 2017 — on Feb. 11, saying that the link between vaccines and autism has actually been disproven by U.S. courts and several scientific studies.

PolitiFact flagged the false post on Facebook, and Poynter was not able to share a link to the story without receiving a warning that it had been debunked.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

5. ‘The claim that the photo shows Atatürk together with a wolf dog’

Fact: 853 engagements

Fake: 4.8K engagements

This hoax melds two things that Facebook users regularly find tantalizing: pets and images.

On Jan. 28, a Facebook user posted a black-and-white photo purportedly depicting former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with a wolf. The post was re-shared on an Atatürk fan page, racking up thousands of more engagements. But Turkish fact-checker Teyit.org debunked the photo, saying the original photo depicted Adolf Hitler with his dog Blondie — and that Atatürk was photoshopped into it.

Teyit flagged the false photo on Facebook, and Poynter was not able to share it without receiving a warning that it had been debunked.