Many of Facebook’s third-party fact checkers have still not been told that the company now expects them to vet adverts as well as user content for misinformation – though, controversially, not political adverts.
Until August, Facebook’s third-party fact checkers, all of whom are independent organisations and members of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, were appointed by the company to only vet content posted to social network by users. The companies receive a fee for the work, and use tools built by Facebook to find claims posted to the site and mark them as true or false. Other flags, including satire, false headline, and “mixture”, are also available.
But a policy update published late this summer allowed fact checkers to flag false adverts for the first time. The new policy was introduced quietly by the company, and initially noticed for the effect it had on political adverts: fact checkers are not allowed to vet content posted by political candidates, and so those adverts can never be taken down for misinformation.
But the ability to vet adverts at all is a new feature for fact checkers, and one some of them are not entirely comfortable with. When a user post is marked false by a fact checker, it gets flagged as such on the site, and shared to fewer users as a result, but it does not get removed from view entirely – a conscious decision on the part of Facebook and fact checkers, who do not want to be accused of censorship.
But Facebook’s policy about non-political advertising is sharper: the company prohibits adverts marked false. “We disapprove ads that contain content rated false, which means these ads can’t run,” Facebook says in a help document, updated in early September according to the Internet Archive.
“Several of us really don’t want that power,” one fact checker told the Guardian. “One of my first questions is, why are you now giving us powers to remove content when you haven’t before? I would argue you’re opening up yourselves to liability. That’s just a Pandora’s box in my opinion.”
Facebook has started to roll out the new ad-checking features to US fact checkers, and the company says it will communicate with international fact checkers before it launches overseas.
As a result of the lack of communication, some fact checkers only learned that their responsibilities were shortly about to change due to media reports of the new policy around political adverts. Others found out watching Zuckerberg in front of Congress, when Congresswoman Maxine Waters asked him: “Do you fact check on any ads at all?”, and he answered “Yes”.
“They added language to the guide without telling us,” another fact checker said. “We had to check previous versions to find out when.”
Facebook declined to comment. Full Fact and FactCheckNI, the two British partners for Facebook’s fact-checking service, declined to comment.