LONDON: Facebook has again found itself under scrutiny amid global efforts to stamp out fake news circulating on social media sites. Nashwa Aly, Facebook’s head of public policy for the Middle East and North Africa, spoke to Arab News about the company’s new Arabic-language fact-checking service.
Q: Has the fact-checking service in Arabic already started? If so, are there any results as to how many articles are being flagged as false?
A: The third-party fact-checking in Arabic rolls out as of this month, so still no results to share yet. We recognize the implications of false news on Facebook and we are committed to doing a better job to fight it. More than 181 million people use Facebook every month across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), so this is a responsibility that we take very seriously, and we’re excited to see through the this launch in partnership with AFP MENA.
How many people will be working on it and what kind of volume of false stories do you expect to identify daily?
It varies by country, but AFP draws on the resources of multiple local bureaus, as well as centralized Arabic-speaking fact-checkers, to fact-check content.
Why did Facebook choose to enter into this initiative? Is the fake news problem any worse in Arabic compared with other languages? Are there any specific issues in challenging this problem in Arabic compared with other languages?
This expansion with AFP, with whom we already have successful fact-checking partnerships across the Latin American and Asia Pacific regions, is a step forward in our efforts to combat Arabic-language misinformation, and we will continue to take steps to expand our efforts globally this year. This initiative is particularly important across MENA, given that misinformation is a major concern in the region.
The present challenges do not necessarily stem from the Arabic language. However, there are some challenges that can arise, such as how to treat opinion and satire. We strongly believe that people should be able to debate different ideas, even controversial ones. We also recognize that there can be a fine line between misinformation and satire or opinion. This can make it more difficult for fact-checkers to assess whether an article should be rated as “false” or left alone.
It appears from the announcement that Facebook will not be actively removing “fake news” links identified under this initiative with AFP. Is that right, and if so, do you think the initiative goes far enough?
The way this will work is that when fact-checkers rate a story as false, we significantly reduce its distribution in News Feed — dropping future views on average by more than
80 percent. Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news will also see their distribution reduced, and their ability to monetize and advertise removed.
We also want to empower people to decide what to read, trust, and share. When third-party fact-checkers write articles about a news story, we show them in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. We also send people and Page Admins notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that has been determined to be false.
Finally, to give people more control, we encourage them to tell us when they see false news. Feedback from our community is one of the various signals that we use to identify potential hoaxes.
Facebook also entered into an initiative with the UAE National Media Council to fight fake news. Is it looking to any other agreements in this field regionally, especially in Saudi Arabia?
The partnership with the UAE National Media Council and the launch of third-party fact-checking in Arabic, in partnership with AFP MENA are both key steps in our efforts against false news but are not nearly done yet. We plan to continue to take steps to expand our efforts this year both globally and regionally.