Two leading fact-checking agencies have ended their partnerships with Facebook, striking a significant blow to the network’s efforts to fight fake news, media reports said.
The social network had paid the Associated Press and Snopes to combat its misinformation crisis. But both confirmed they stopped checking articles at the end of 2018, and will not renew their contracts, the BBC reported.
The Associated Press confirmed to TechCrunch that it was “not currently doing fact-checking work for Facebook”.
An AP spokesperson told the BBC: “AP constantly evaluates how to best deploy its fact-checking resources, and that includes ongoing conversations with Facebook about opportunities to do important fact-checking work on its platform.”
The AP representative contacted TechCrunch to say that although it was not doing fact checking work for the program, it was not leaving it altogether.
Snopes, the popular myth-busting website, has said it was ending its partnership with Facebook as part of a “difficult, but necessary change”.
A Snopes statement on Friday said it was “evaluating the ramifications and costs of providing third-party fact-checking services” and wants the efforts to be “a net positive for our online community, publication, and staff”, the Guardian reported.
Late last year, the Guardian had published a report that suggested fact-checking firms were frustrated by Facebook’s lack of transparency.
The article had quoted former Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski as saying: “They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR. They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck? They clearly don’t care.”
Facebook had disputed the report, saying it had “several inaccuracies”.
Speaking about the pull out by the key fact checkers, Binkowski said she felt Facebook was too controlling over the fact-checking companies.
“Facebook can’t handle any kind of pushback, any kind of public criticism,” she told the BBC, adding that she felt the fact-checking programme at Facebook had been “mishandled”.
Facebook has worked with two other fact-checking agencies in the US. One, Politifact, told the BBC it intended to continue working with Facebook in 2019. The other, Factcheck,org, did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Snopes said it needed to “determine with certainty that our efforts to aid any particular platform are a net positive for our online community, publication and staff”.
The site’s founder David Mikkelson, and head of operations Vinny Green, said in a blog post that the firm did not rule out working with Facebook in future.
“We hope to keep an open dialogue going with Facebook to discuss approaches to combating misinformation that are beneficial to platforms, fact-checking organisations and the user community alike,” the company said.
The blog post acknowledged that choosing not to renew its work with Facebook would have financial repercussions for the company.
In 2017, Facebook paid Snopes $100,000 for its work. Snopes has not yet released its financial disclosures for 2018.
“Forgoing an economic opportunity is not a decision that we or any other journalistic enterprise can take lightly in the current publishing landscape,” the company said.
Facebook said it was committed to fighting fake news and said it would expand its efforts in 2019.
“We are committed to fighting this through many tactics, and the work that third-party fact-checkers do is a valued and important piece of this effort.
“We have strong relationships with 34 fact-checking partners around the world who fact-check content in 16 languages, and we plan to expand the programme this year by adding new partners and languages.”
Facebook’s fact checking collaboration began after the 2016 US presidential poll led to significant concerns about propaganda and false news polluting the site.
It has since experimented with different tools to stop the spread of misinformation, including limiting the reach of articles debunked by journalist partners.
Studies and analyses of the initiative have repeatedly raised questions about whether the partnership was making a difference, and Facebook has refused to release meaningful data, the Guardian said.