Facebook expands its fact-checking project to Italy

Facebook is adding Italy to its list of countries where fact-checkers can review and flag fake news.

Facebook announced Tuesday that, starting next week, it will partner with fact-checking outlet Pagella Politica to cut down on the amount of misinformation on the social media platform. The move makes Italy the fifth country where fact-checking organizations are reviewing fake stories through a dedicated mechanism on Facebook, after the United States, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The feature, which was launched in December 2016, gives fact-checkers the ability to comb through viral stories on Facebook and — if deemed false — append further context in a related articles section. This signal could result in the story being algorithmically lowered in the News Feed, and users who shared it will receive notifications saying it’s disputed (Belonging to the International Fact-Checking Network is a necessary condition for Facebook’s fact-checking partners).

The timing of Facebook’s expansion to Italy is key, as it comes comes a little more than a month before the country’s general election on March 4.

“The fact that it was launched one month before the election was obviously important for them, even if they stressed that this is a longer commitment,” said Giovanni Zagni, director of Pagella Politica (the outlet was co-founded by IFCN director Alexios Mantzarlis).

“A lot of things have been said about misinformation and disinformation in Italy, but the dimension of the phenomenon is not so clear for the time being. Working on this project will give us an opportunity to understand more.”

The concept of “fake news” has been highly politicized in Italy, including by the ruling Democratic Party. Earlier this month, the government created a portal where people can report fake news to the police — sparking outrage among Italian journalists and fact-checkers. Several of them previously told Poynter that it’s still unclear whether or not fake news is having any real effect on voters ahead of the general election.

Still, Facebook’s concerns about election-related misinformation are palpable. Laura Bononcini, head of public policy for Facebook in Italy, Malta and Greece, told Poynter in an email that the tech company is looking to expand its fact-checking partnerships in other countries, but did not mention any specifics.

“We’ve listened to our community and begun talks with other global partners,” she said. “We're hopeful to continue this in other countries soon.”

In addition to teaming up with Pagella Politica, Facebook is rolling out an educational tool in partnership with Fondazione Mondo Digitale that lists 10 tips for spotting fake news online. The resource will be featured at the top of users’ news feeds and published in main national newspapers, according to a Facebook press release sent to Poynter.

Not all of Facebook's fact-checking partners have been thrilled with how the project has gone over the past year. Last month, Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of Snopes, told Poynter that while trying to surface fact checks on the platform is important, misinformation will continue to be a problem until the company rehires human editors.

Next week, Facebook is meeting with its fact-checking partners at its Menlo Park, California, headquarters to discuss potentially sharing more information about how the project is working (the IFCN helped organize the event). For Zagni, the partnership with Facebook will be successful if it enables Pagella Politica to meaningfully determine what kinds of fake news stories gain traction in Italy.

“I don’t think there are thousands of websites that spread fake news in Italy, but if the number is lower ... maybe we could really counter that kind of production,” he said. “Once the dimension is really assessed, then we could probably understand if we are going to make a difference.”

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