January 23, 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 bad week for fact checks on Facebook, with one hoax in Brazil amassing 250 times more engagements than two debunks combined.

In the second installment of our new weekly column Fact vs. Fake, Poynter compared the reach of several top-performing fact checks on Facebook with the hoaxes they debunked.  What we found was that falsities found a large audience in every country we examined — with topics running the gamut from supermarket price hikes in France to spending for Donald Trump’s border wall in the United States.

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 because they aren’t tied to a specific URL, image or video that fact-checkers can flag (i.e. “Donald Trump falsely says there’s ‘never’ been so many border apprehensions”). Read more about our methodology here.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

1. ‘No, the government does not increase prices of Ricard and “hundreds of articles” by 10%’

Fact: 3.0K

Fake: 9.1K

As the Yellow Vest protests rage on in France, rumors about price hikes at supermarkets are getting massive engagement on Facebook.

A user posted a photo Jan. 18 that purported to show a sign claiming a new law was mandating a 10 percent price increase for hundreds of items in French supermarkets. The photo shows the alleged new prices for bottles of Ricard liquor and Carte Noire coffee, and went viral after being shared in a Yellow Vests Facebook group, Le Monde’s Les Décodéurs fact-checking project reported.

But the photo takes the law out of context: 93 percent of items will see no change or a decrease in price, according to Les Décodéurs. The project flagged the post on Facebook under its partnership with the company, which enables fact-checkers to reduce the reach of false stories, photos and videos in News Feed. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)

Poynter could not share the false Facebook post to our timeline without receiving a warning that it had been debunked.

2. ‘No, Trump family did not donate $1 billion to border wall fund’

Fact: 1.6K engagements

Fake: 2.8K engagements

This one wasn’t too bad for PolitiFact — despite the fact that it debunked the false story two days after it was published.

A fake news story published on Jan. 13 claimed that the Trump family donated $1 billion to fund the president’s proposed wall on the border of the United States and Mexico. It came from a website that dabbles in other false stories, despite having a disclaimer that said it “does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information.”

The false story cited a purported comment from “Art Tubolls” — which PolitiFact reported is an anagram of Busta Troll (a pen name of Christopher Blair) — a notorious internet hoaxer who runs one of the biggest sources of misinformation on the internet. The fact-checker flagged the post on Facebook, and when we tried to share it, Poynter received a warning saying that the false story had been debunked.

(Screenshot from Rense.com)

3. ‘Did Congress “Set Aside” $50 Billion in 2006 for the Construction of Border Fencing?’

Fact: 717 engagements

Fake: 1.2K engagements

Political debate in the United States has centered on President Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexico border for several weeks now. And it’s come with a barrage of false claims like this one.

On Jan. 12, conspiracist Jeff Rense posted on Facebook a visual version of a meme that had been circulating social media for the first couple weeks of 2019. It claimed that Congress set aside $50 billion for the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which would build more barriers along the United States’ southern border. But Snopes debunked the story, saying that  $50 billion was not set aside for border security in the 2006 law.

Despite being one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners, Snopes told Poynter that it had not flagged the false story on the platform. As such, we were able to share (and then promptly delete) it without a warning.

4. ‘It is false information that Moro ordered to withdraw power outlets in cells’

Fact: 414 engagements

Fake: 139.8K engagements

This hoax was a whopper, racking up more than 250 times more Facebook engagements than any of the fact checks debunking it.

The post, which originated on a hyperpartisan Brazilian Facebook page, claimed in a photo that federal judge Sérgio Moro had ordered prisons to remove power outlets in order to cut down on the use of cell phones. Fact-checking project Aos Fatos debunked the post, saying the removal of outlets actually started with “an amendment to a bill that was approved by the Legislative Assembly of Ceará after a wave of violence that plagues the state.”

In addition to Aos Fatos, Agência Lupa — another one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners — flagged the post on the platform, albeit garnering fewer than 200 engagements. Poynter wasn’t able to share the false post without a warning, but only a related article for Aos Fatos showed up.

(Screenshot from 24jours.com)

5. ‘No, 200 Malian soldiers did not “disappear in nature” in Canada’

Fact: 109 engagements

Fake: 14.6K engagements

This fact check from the Agence France-Presse got more than 130 times fewer engagements on Facebook than a false claim about Malian soldiers.

A false story published Jan. 1 claimed that 200 soldiers from Mali disappeared within weeks of being sent to Canada. It originated from satirical site 24jours.com — but it was quickly copied on several fake news sites, and, since the original story didn’t contain any hints at satire, started a “snowball effect,” AFP reported.

Mali’s Minister of Defense and the Canadian Ministry of Defense publicly debunked the article. AFP’s Canada bureau flagged the post on Facebook and Poynter was not able to share it 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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