InfoWars isn’t the only misinforming page that’s still allowed to publish on Facebook.
YourNewsWire is one of the most popular fake news publishers in the world. The website, run by two men in Los Angeles, regularly pumps out hoaxes and conspiracy theories. It has promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and has been the subject of a glossy profile by The Hollywood Reporter.
And despite being debunked at least 80 times, and having its posts fact-checked as false through Facebook’s fact-checking partnership at least 45 times, YourNewsWire is still publishing on the platform — amassing hundreds of thousands of engagements each month.
How Facebook decides which pages get the ax has been a topic of debate among tech and media journalists over the past week. During an on-the-record event for reporters last Wednesday, CNN reporter Oliver Darcy asked a simple question: Why does the platform allow InfoWars to publish if it regularly spreads blatant misinformation?
As Poynter wrote last week, we already know what Facebook is and isn’t willing to do when it comes to misinforming pages. But is it delivering on those promises?
That’s the question Poynter set out to answer, analyzing the reach of InfoWars and YourNewsWire in the period since the fact-checking product was launched to see how Facebook’s anti-misinformation effort has limited the reach of each site.
What we found is that Facebook’s product hasn’t been a waste of time — but it hasn’t exactly been a runaway success, either.
Counting the debunks
U.S. fact-checking organizations have been debunking fake news stories on Facebook since December 2016, when the tech company launched arguably its most visible effort to combat misinformation — a program in which independent fact-checkers are given access to a Facebook tool that shows them content users have reported as potentially false.
Then the system uses fact-checkers’ articles as a signal to decrease debunked stories’ reach in News Feed by up to 80 percent after an average of three days. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)
Fact-checkers have told Poynter in the past that the partnership is helpful for surfacing hoaxes they might not have seen otherwise, but they have doubts about its ability to scale to the amount of misinformation that’s published on a daily basis. Calls for more data from Facebook resulted in an academic partnership that the platform launched last week — but we still don’t know how some of the top hoaxers have been affected by fact-checkers’ work.
Poynter’s analysis looked at stories debunked by Snopes, (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact, Factcheck.org and the Associated Press Fact Check from YourNewsWire and InfoWars since the launch of Facebook’s fact-checking partnership (all four U.S. organizations participate in the program).
We didn’t include debunks without specific links or at least a “mixture” rating — both of which are required to flag a post on Facebook.
According to our analysis, Snopes, PolitiFact, Factcheck.org and the AP have debunked stories from YourNewsWire at least 80 times over the past year and a half. Of those, 45 were flagged in Facebook’s system, which alerts users to related fact checks before they share a link.