Facebook is going to start fact-checking, labeling, and burying fake news and hoaxes in its News Feed, the company said Thursday.
The decision comes after Facebook received heated criticism for its role in spreading a deluge of political misinformation during the US presidential election, like one story that falsely said the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump.
To combat fake news, Facebook has teamed up with a shortlist of media organizations, including Snopes and ABC News, that are part of an international fact-checking network led by Poynter, a nonprofit school for journalism in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Starting as a test with a small percentage of its users in the US, Facebook will make it easier to report news stories that are fake or misleading. Once third-party fact-checkers have confirmed that the story is fake, it will be labeled as such and demoted in the News Feed.
A company representative told Business Insider that the social network will also use other signals, like algorithms that detect whether a story that appears fake is going viral, to determine if it should label the story as fake and bury it in people's feeds.
"We've focused our efforts on the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain, and on engaging both our community and third party organizations," Facebook News Feed chief Adam Mosseri said in a company blog post on Thursday.
A team of Facebook researchers will also review website domains and send sites that appear to be fake or spoofed (like "washingtonpost.co") to third-party fact-checkers, a Facebook representative said. Of the 42 news organizations that have committed to Poynter's fact-checking code of ethics, Facebook is starting out with the following four:
Snopes, Factcheck.org, ABC News, and PolitiFact.
The Associated Press will also be a fact-checking partner.
"We are only involved to the extent that Facebook relies on the list of signatories to our code of principles as a starting point for the organizations it chooses to verify," a Poynter representative told Business Insider. "Facebook is the only organization certifying third party fact-checkers on its platform."
Facebook has given its four initial fact-checking partners access to a tool that will let them label stories in the News Feed as fake, a Facebook spokesperson said. The person said Facebook is not paying the organizations to fact-check.
The websites that Facebook determines to be fake news organizations or spoofed domains will also not be able to sell ads on the social network. Owners of fake-news sites can make thousands of dollars per month through internet ads.
Facebook has repeatedly said that it's not a media company, but rather an open technology platform that relies on media publishers and its users to share accurate information.
“We do not think of ourselves as editors," Patrick Walker, Facebook's head of media partnerships, said during a recent journalism conference in Dublin. "We believe it’s essential that Facebook stay out of the business of deciding what issues the world should read about. That’s what editors do.”
Politicians such as President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have recently expressed concern about the prevalence of misinformation on social media, with Obama calling it a "dust cloud of nonsense" and Clinton calling it "an epidemic."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has meanwhile gone so far as to say that it's "pretty crazy" for some to suggest that fake news on Facebook could have swayed the election in favor of either candidate.
But after facing significant backlash for its denial to fact-check stories on its network, Zuckerberg now calls Facebook a "new kind of platform" with a responsibility to "build a space where people can be informed."
"Facebook is a new kind of platform different from anything before it. I think of Facebook as a technology company, but I recognize we have a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through," the Facebook founder said in a Thursday post.
"While we don't write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we're more than just a distributor of news. We're a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed."