Credit: Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Fact-checking organisation Full Fact has demanded Facebook do more to help users recognise misinformation and contain its spread online.

In a report on its first six months working as part of the third-party fact-checking programme, Full Fact called on the social media platform to diversify its range of ratings for claims, expand the programme to other platforms, such as Instagram, and develop tools to better identify harmful content.

Facebook’s fact-checking scheme currently reduces the visibility of posts marked as ‘false’, ‘false headline’ or ‘mixed’, but editor of Full Fact Tom Phillips said that the ‘mixture’ rating is too broad and that a greater variety of ratings are needed.

"At what point does it become misleading for us to apply the label 'true' to something that’s in the right ballpark but not exactly right?," Phillips asked.

"We’re a fact-checking organisation; if we say something is true, you’d hope it is, in fact, true, not just there or thereabouts, but applying a ‘mixture’ rating was often not properly descriptive of the situation."

Matter of perspective

Phillips explained that his team have encountered viral posts that have, for example, listed side effects from vaccines. However, whilst the claims made were technically true, they lacked the context of how likely they are to occur.

This kind of content is difficult to categorise. An option, such as ‘needs more context’, would provide better understanding and guidance for Facebook users going forward.

Phillips added that Facebook also needs to develop more tools to identify harmful content, especially image memes that repeat claims already debunked but that look different from the original.

For example, he cites posts containing debunked claims about the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, or misleading visuals stating that dialing 55 when speaking to 999 enables the police to trace your call. These false claims often spread in many different versions.

One option Facebook is pursuing is a ‘possibly related content’ section displayed underneath some posts, a move welcome by Phillips.

Mixed bag

Full Fact verified more than the 96 different claims in the first half of this year and, sometimes, even the most absurd ones had a grain of truth to them.

One post, which claimed that coughing rhythmically when having a heart attack can keep your heart going, likely had its origins in people suffering cardiac arrest being able to maintain their heart rhythm for a minute in controlled conditions in hospital.

"You can see where the idea has come from, but it’s a thing that has been misinterpreted and mutated until you arrive at something that has the potential to do harm if someone follows that advice in a situation where they are facing a life-threatening condition," said Phillips.

The role of the government

In its report, Full Fact has also called on the government to do more to provide reliable sources of information for the public.

While verifying a claim about the safety of an ingredient in a bath product, for example, the Full Fact team were signposted to 13 different press offices, many of which felt it was their responsibility to deal with the inquiry.

However, Phillips recognised that any legislation should be wary of being a knee-jerk response and should be done in an open, democratic way, with significant public discussion and be based on evidence.

Full Fact is just one organisation that Facebook is working with for its third party fact-checking programme. Associated Press, AFP and Chequeado also are among those working with the social media platform in countries around the world.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).