FB’s fact-checking initiative in state

Facebook has chosen poll-bound Karnataka to launch its first concerted effort towards a crackdown on fake news.

Social networking giant Facebook has chosen poll-bound Karnataka to launch its first concerted effort towards a crackdown on fake news.

Ahead of the May 12 state Assembly elections, news stories shared by Facebook users on the platform will be fact-checked by a certified team, making this the California-based company’s first third-party fact-checking programme in India.

Individual users and page admins will be notified if they try to share, or have shared in the past, a story that has been determined as false.

Pilot project

Facebook has partnered with BOOM, a Mumbai-based independent, digital journalism initiative founded by journalist Govindraj Ethiraj, for the pilot project in the state.

“We chose Karnataka where elections are coming up and news flow is more during this time,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “Third-party fact-checking is part of our ongoing effort to combat fake news.” The company wants to gradually scale up the initiative, which went live in Karnataka on Monday evening.

India is now among the select countries where Facebook runs a fact-checking project. The others include France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, US, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines. Facebook has 217 million users in India.

Apparently, Facebook has been able to reduce the distribution of stories rated as false by 80%. Once a fact-checker rates a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in the news feed, significantly cutting down its distribution.

“This, in turn, stops the hoax from spreading and reduces the number of people who see it,” the spokesperson explained. “Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news will have their ability to monetise and advertise removed.”

The initiative is part of Facebook’s larger confidence-building measures following the outrage over how Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, reportedly obtained data of 87 million users in a bid to assist the election campaign of Donald Trump.

“This conversation started before the Cambridge Analytica episode. In fact, our discussion with Facebook on Karnataka is at least three months old,” said Ethiraj, who also founded IndiaSpend, a journalism nonprofit.

“We have an agreement to focus more on Karnataka, giving us the freedom to do what we want. There has been fairly high misinformation in and around Karnataka that we have debunked already,” he said, citing the specific example of news reports on postcard.news, whose founder Mahesh Vikram Hegde was recently arrested.

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