Facebook on Thursday announced a new partnership with five media sites, including a Philadelphia-based fact-checking organization, to try to curb the spread of fake news across the increasingly influential social media network.
FactCheck.org, founded in 2003 at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, will be one of five independent organizations tasked with helping Facebook users differentiate between legitimate news reports and manufactured posts of misinformation.
FactCheck.org director Eugene Kiely said in a statement that his organization — whose main objective is to combat deception and confusion in U.S. politics — has spent the last nine years "writing about viral chain emails and fake news about politics."
"We are pleased to work with Facebook to help combat fake news to the extent that we can," Kiely said. "We have limited resources, and our primary mission is to fact-check statements made by politicians."
Fake news stories touch on a broad range of subjects, from unproven cancer cures to celebrity hoaxes and backyard Bigfoot sightings. But fake political stories, in particular, are believed to have influenced public perceptions during the recent presidential election and were cited as the motivation for a shooting at a Washington pizzeria this month.
Viral news stories that FactCheck.org recently debunked as false include a report that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for president, and another that President Obama had signed an executive order banning the Pledge of Allegiance.
FactCheck.org articles also appear on Philly.com through a content-sharing partnership.
The plan announced Thursday aims to make it easier for Facebook users to report fake news when they see it. To report a link as false, the user will click the downward arrow in the upper-right corner of the post and then select "Report post." Under "choose a reason," they would select, "It's a fake story."
If enough users report the story as fake, Facebook will pass the story to its pool of five fact-checking organizations — ABC News, the Associated Press, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, and Snopes. Facebook said that group is likely to expand.
Stories that flunk the fact check will not be removed from Facebook. But they will be publicly flagged as "disputed" and will be downgraded in users' news feeds.
Users can click on a link to learn why they are so marked. If people want to share the story with friends anyway, they can, but they'll get another warning.
By working with respected outside organizations and flagging, rather than removing, fake stories, Facebook is sidestepping some of the biggest concerns experts have raised about its considerable power.
For instance, some have questioned whether Facebook might act as a censor and argued that an engineer-led technology company might not have the right experience to make complex media-ethics decisions.
"We do believe that we have an obligation to combat the spread of fake news," John Hegeman, Facebook's vice president of product management on news feed, told the Associated Press. But he added that Facebook also takes seriously its role as an open platform and said it was not the company's place to decide what is true or false.