Facebook has announced a partnership with Mumbai-based fact-checking website BOOM, to help the social network tackle the spread of fake news on its platform. The “third party fact-checking program” will start with a pilot in Karnataka ahead of the state elections next month. The announcement of the pilot program was made in a company blog post, which also attempts to explain how the fact-checking process on Facebook presently works.

This is not the first time Facebook has partnered with third-party fact checkers – it has similar deals with fact-checking groups in the US, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and the Philippines. But is the platform’s first such initiative in India, the company’s largest market with over 270 million users (data: Statista). Like other Facebook fact-checking partners, BOOM is certified through the International Fact-Checking Network, a non-partisan international fact-checking network at Poynter. It will be able to review the English-language stories shared on Facebook and rate their accuracy.

In the blog post, Facebook says that once a story is rated as false, the platform has been able to reduce its distribution by 80% which helps stop false stories from spreading. The company then elaborates how the process of fact-checking works on the social network. It goes something as follows,

  • When a fact-checker rates a story as false, it will be shown lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution. This intends to stop the hoax from spreading and reduces the number of people who see it.
  • Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news will also see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetize and advertise removed. This intends to help curb the spread of financially motivated false news.

The social media giant though does not want to arbitrate what people see and don’t see and intends to give users all possible information and control by doing the following,

  • If third-party fact-checkers write articles debunking a false news story, it will be shown in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed.
  • People and Page Admins are sent notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false.

Opposition to Facebook’s fact-checking tools

Facebook’s fact-checking efforts have faced some resistance from certain political groups and users who feel the process is biased against their interests. Earlier this week the Philippines government criticised the company for its choice of two independent fact-checking platforms in the country, claiming they were biased against President Rodrigo Duterte.

In the United States, Facebook’s attempts to label false news stories with help from fact checkers like Snopes has backfired. Those sympathetic to the false narrative apparently saw the red flag as a badge of honour, clicking and sharing anyway rather than allowing someone else to tell them they’re wrong. Facebook has since overhauled its system. Now it doesn’t confront users directly about whether an article, publisher or author is propagating fake news. Instead, Facebook seems to be trying to build a wall of evidence as to whether a source is reputable or not by providing related stories and context about the publisher.

The business of fact-checking

At February’s NAMAPolicy event on Fake News and Online Content Regulation, a panel discussion took place on Fact-checking, processes and business models. One of the highlights that emerged from the discussion was the various business models used by fact-checking platforms. It was revealed that globally almost 60-70% fact-checkers are dependent on global grants that offer funding for durations between two to ten years. Some 20% people are those who are working with major organisations like the New York Times and Guardian who have a dedicated team for fact-checking. The final model is based on memberships and subscriptions.

BOOM’s partnership with Facebook offers another possible avenue for fact-checking platforms to raise funding. Govindraj Ethiraj, the founder of BOOM, told BuzzFeed News that Facebook is paying them “a small amount of money” for the service but “but not enough to build fact-checking empires.”