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Disinformation

Meet Facebook’s New Fact-Checker

Facebook has signed up a new fact-checking partner this week, a two-person company called Lead Stories which has promised to spot hoaxes more quickly for the social media giant with equal doses of new technology and its founders’ enthusiasm.

Facebook has come under heavy criticism amid a roiling global debate about the company’s responsibility to police the veracity of content that it makes huge profits from posting. Respected fact-checking website Snopes officially ended its partnership with the company last week, alleging that its services was little more than window dressing for the embattled tech giant.

Lead Stories, however, has eagerly joined a group of more than 30 Facebook partners around the world paid to stop fake news from spreading.

Here is how its fact-checking tech works: When a news story starts to go viral, within minutes Lead Stories gets notified, sometimes through a phone alert. Company co-founder Maarten Schenk, who works from his home in Belgium, can then rush to check the story and, if it is false, debunk it on leadstories.com.

“I’ve been known to get up from the dinner table and rush down and start debunking it, so that we literally have a debunk out within the hour,” Schenk said.

Another Lead Stories tool tracks fake news creators across multiple websites by looking at where their ad revenue is going. This way, hoax sites can be identified before they’ve even posted anything.

“I’ve had fake news producers contact me by email and say, ‘How the hell do you find my site so fast?’ ” Schenk told Coda Story in video call.

Facebook’s partnership with third-party fact-checkers is part of its wider campaign against fake news. It has also cracked down aggressively on state-sponsored propaganda and fake accounts.

Facebook pays its fact-checkers to identify false or misleading articles and enter them into a Facebook database. Based on these entries, Facebook can then reduce how many people see a story and tag the story as disputed.

While Facebook maintains that this system has been “highly effective,” some former fact-checkers complained that their work had almost no impact. One former Snopes employee told the Guardian that Facebook had “essentially used us for crisis PR” without taking their work seriously, while a Snopes executive said the system for flagging stories was slow and cumbersome.

Asked about these complaints, Schenk said he had no first-hand knowledge of the criticism. He says it’s too early to tell whether Lead Stories will have a significant impact at Facebook, but he has his own tools to test whether his fact-checks are actually suppressing the spread of fake news.

Schenk said his own research suggests that Facebook hoaxes are becoming less lucrative. “The golden days of 2016 are over for this commercially-motivated fake news,” he said.

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