Fighting misinformation is an ever-evolving problem and Facebook can’t do it alone. In 2016, we started our third-party fact-checking program, working with IFCN-certified fact-checkers around the world to rate and review the accuracy of content on our platform. Since its launch, we have partnered with over 50 organizations with expertise in over 40 languages.
In the third of our Q&A series, ‘Getting to Know Our Third-Party Fact-Checking Partners’, we spoke to Sophie Nicholson from Agence France-Press (AFP), Facebook’s most expansive global partner. She talked about what AFP’s journalists and editors have learned from launching multilingual fact-checking initiatives around the world, ranging from Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America to English and French in West Africa. To hear more from our other third-party fact-checking partners, you can read our interviews with Full Fact, in the UK, here and Factly, in India, here.
How would you describe AFP and its mission in a few sentences?
Agence France-Presse is a multilingual, multicultural news agency whose mission is to provide accurate, balanced and impartial coverage of news wherever and whenever it happens in the world. Fact-checking has been a core element of AFP’s work for more than 180 years. We set up a blog to focus on fact-checking in response to the multiplication of false information online, inspired by our experience with the award-winning French CrossCheck project.
AFP started partnering with Facebook to fact-check content in 2017. How has your work developed as a result of this partnership?
We consider stories flagged on Facebook as part of the material we investigate. Content rated “false” by fact-checkers is downgraded in News Feeds so fewer people will see it. AFP’s fact-checking operations receive direct support through Facebook’s programme, which has helped us to expand our fact-checking team worldwide.
AFP currently has fact-checking operations throughout Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America. How do you ensure that your teams are sharing learnings across countries and languages?
Regional editors are in daily contact to share information about what we’re working on, answer editorial questions and give feedback. We hold regular video conferences to keep up-to-date with editorial changes and hear about what’s going on with our fact-checkers around the world.
Fact-checking is often most critical during and after a breaking news event. Can you walk us through an example of a recent event in which AFP’s verification efforts were particularly impactful?
The Notre Dame fire inspired many conspiracy theorists and racists to share baseless claims across social media, particularly with anti-Muslim narratives. One of our fact-checks involved speaking to two architecture students who were victims of online hate after they were photographed smiling in front of the burning cathedral. Far-right pages in France and the United States portrayed the picture as “Muslims laughing” at the fire. The students told AFP that they had smiled after a strip of security tape caught one of them in the face, but that the picture had provoked an “avalanche” of online hate.
What processes have you been able to keep centralized in AFP editing hubs, compared to work that’s done locally?
Local knowledge and contacts enable reporters on the ground to propose, investigate and write stories. The editing hubs oversee the process: connecting reporters with other bureaus, suggesting sources and seeking more information, as well as publishing stories. They also help and advise on interactions with the public.
Where have your teams been able to work together across borders?
A lot of false information crosses borders and our fact-checking work involves frequent conversations with AFP reporters in other countries to investigate details with local contacts in the same way as working for the news wire. There are numerous examples of this: for example this video allegedly showing a Saudi man assaulting a London hospital receptionist which was shared more than 40,000 times on Facebook.
How do you think fact-checkers can better communicate the importance of their work to the public? Is there anything AFP has tried that has been particularly successful?
Many people are seeking places where they can find verified information, particularly around news events. It’s important to build up engagement within a community so that people know what you’re doing and you can help them sift through the noise when they’re seeking information on a particular topic. We received a lot of requests via our social media accounts to verify pictures and information during the mass demonstrations at the start of the “yellow vest” protest movement last year, and built up a following of people who were very appreciative of our work to clarify what was really going on.
As a discipline, where do you think fact-checking and verification will be five years from today?
Fact-checking and verification tools and techniques will be further integrated into news organisations as well as many other places. We’ll have more transparency about where information is coming from but will also be dealing with increasingly sophisticated ways to falsify information. I hope that efforts to tackle bad information will keep up with these, particularly in countries where media literacy and internet penetration are currently low.