Facebook targets fake news in Arabic language media

Nashwa Aly, Facebook’s head of public policy for the Middle East and North Africa, hopes feedback from online users can help identify hoaxes. (Supplied)
Updated 19 February 2019
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Facebook targets fake news in Arabic language media

  • Social media giant reveals plans to roll out further initiatives across the Arab world
  • “We want to empower people to decide what to read, trust and share”

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.


Qatari media incites boycott of Bahrain’s Palestinian workshop, but ignores leaks about own regime attendance

Updated 26 May 2019
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Qatari media incites boycott of Bahrain’s Palestinian workshop, but ignores leaks about own regime attendance

  • Experts predict that comments come as a result of Iranian and Qatari media propagating a negative view of the workshop, which is being falsely portrayed as an effort to force Palestinians to sell-away their right to a state
  • Dubbed “Peace for Prosperity,” the conference is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector

DUBAI: Qatari media has been upping the ante with articles and opinion pieces shedding negative light on the US-lead “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain, which led to Palestinian officials to have a negative view of the summit and urge other Arab states of boycotting it.

“We call on the countries that have agreed to attend the Bahrain workshop to reevaluate their decision,” the secretary of the PLO’s executive committee, Saeb Erekat, told Arab News in an interview yesterday. 

Experts predict that comments come as a result of Iranian and Qatari media propagating a negative view of the workshop, which is being falsely portrayed as an effort to force Palestinians to sell-away their right to a state. 

“‘A two-day international Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain undermines #Palestinians and their calls for sovereignty’” read a tweet from Qatar-owned English version of The New Arab, a newspaper based in London. 

Another tweet by the same news website read: “In-depth: ‘Palestinian political and religious leaders have slammed Jared Kushner’s so-called Deal of the Century Israel-Palestine peace plan, due to be revealed in part in a controversial Bahrain summit‘”

While a Twitter poll from senior Al Jazeera New channel anchor Jamal Rayyan asked “Do you support Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel’s organization of an economic conference in Bahrain to finance the deal of the century and the liquidation of the Palestinian cause?”

The results showed 71 percent against while 29 percent for.

Also, articles from Middle East Eye and Middle East Monitor – both Qatari-backed and pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood – have exaggerated the ‘failings’ of the workshop in Manama.

But while Qatari media has aggressively pushed against the Bahain summit, Israel-based Haaretz has published an article claiming that Qatar plans to attend and participate in the conference, which takes place on June 25 and 26.

No reports of Qatar confirming or denying the Haaretz article were found by Arab News.

Dubbed “Peace for Prosperity,” the conference is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector.

Trump’s office said the conference was a “pivotal opportunity... to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”

The Palestinians see this as offering financial rewards in exchange for accepting ongoing Israeli occupation.

“Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected,” Erekat said.

(With AFP)