Third-party fact checkers tasked with flagging misinformation on Facebook have been forced to reconsider how they handle humorous posts due to the number of people misinterpreting satire as fact.
Full Fact, which carries out fact checking services on Facebook in the UK, has urged the social media firm to introduce a new rating for humorous posts to ensure they are not taken at face value.
The charity said Facebook’s current system, which only flags posts as satire or pranks, allowed many jokes to slip through undetected and risked sparking confusion.
In one instance, a humorous post suggesting the BBC was adding Arabic subtitles to Eastenders to help refugees settle in was widely interpreted as a real news story.
Under the fact checking programme, Full Fact flags any posts it deems to be misleading, and Facebook may then opt to reduce the post’s visibility. However, posts marked as satire or pranks are exempt from having their distribution cut.
The revelation came in Full Fact’s first report on the programme since it started working with Facebook in January.
Full Fact said it believed the scheme was worthwhile in cracking down on misinformation and preventing harm, but called on Facebook to do more to help the process.
The charity said the Silicon Valley behemoth must release more data on when posts have been shared to help fact checkers know how rapidly it is spreading.
It also asked for more data from Facebook about the reach of fact checks to help assess how effective the programme is.
Full Fact said it has published 96 fact checks up to the beginning of July, the majority of which concluded that the post in question contained false claims.
Many of these related to untrue health claims, including the suggestion that a heart attack can be prevented by repeated coughing and that stab victims can be helped by “whacking” a tampon in the wound.
But the organisation admitted there were likely to be many more similar posts online than it is currently able to see or fact check.
“Online misinformation is a serious problem that causes real harm to people’s lives, health and wellbeing,” said Full Fact chief executive Will Moy.
“We want to see Facebook sharing more data with us so we can improve and better assess the impact we’re having as fact checkers, and we would like to see this programme expanded to Facebook’s other platforms where the risks posed by inaccurate information are high.”
Julia Bain, of Facebook’s integrity partnerships division, said: “Our third-party fact checking program is an important part of our multi-pronged approach to fighting misinformation.
“We welcome feedback that draws on the experiences and first-hand knowledge of organisations like Full Fact, which has become a valued partner in the UK.”
Full Fact also called on the government to review its responsibilities for providing authoritative public information on topics such as public health and the law to help crack down on harm caused by inaccurate information.
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